“As you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did to me.”
Midway through our time on the streets, Sam and I found ourselves in Berkeley, California. Despite the word around town that our panhandling would be better received in Berkeley than downtown San Francisco, things weren’t looking promising. We were drastically short on funds for purchasing bus tickets to our next city, Phoenix, and I had recently broken my flip flops while tripping ridiculously on a stray slab of concrete.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40 (above) and the logical inverse in verse 45 (“as you did not do it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did not do it to me”) provide one of the most poignant motivations for Social Justice in the whole of Scripture. Somehow, through a mechanism hidden this side of heaven, our King chooses to receive our kindnesses and love to others as service rendered directly unto himself.
But what is Jesus describing in these verses? At first glance I’d say the principle is rather simple. And in many respects what Jesus is describing here is just plain common sense: If someone’s hungry, give them food. If someone’s thirsty, give them a drink. If someone’s naked, give them clothes. If someone’s lonely, visit them. It’s straightforward.
Let’s look a little deeper, though, and consider a more subtle layer of what Jesus is explaining. Notice that the first three things—food, water, clothing—require money to accomplish. But the final two examples—visiting the sick and imprisoned—or in other words, building relationships with those in need, require time. Money and time. And we’re supposed to be willing to use both to serve others and thus serve our King. Jesus never meant for “love your neighbor” to be a quick, check-it-off-the-list sort of thing.
Berkeley, late afternoon: two young guys, ages 17 and 22, literally overwhelmed Sam and I with their generosity. I don’t just mean money, either. It was their willingness to engage, and give of all they had that so stunned us. They invited us to dinner at their apartment, provided groceries, helped us buy a bus ticket, and even gave me some new flip flops.
I’m not suggesting that 17 and 22 year olds need to flood the streets en masse and invite the hundreds of thousands of homeless back to their apartment for dinner tonight. But, I am suggesting that we notice the complete willingness of these two young men to serve Sam and I. They were willing to offer both money and time to help meet our needs.
Writing a check is often the easiest “ask,” and that’s good and necessary. But rescue missions also provide one of the best local opportunities for community members to give time to the “least of these.” Mentors, board members, business liaisons, Mission advocates, etc., are a few of the many ways people can serve by offering their time.
Many in the younger generation have little to offer as far as finances go. Either we’re in the thick of our education, wondering how we’re ever going to pay off our mountain of school debt, or we haven’t yet had enough time in the workforce to generate an amount of capital to significantly support a mission’s work. But, show us how our time can be used to benefit someone in need (ie: mentoring relationship, campus mission advocate, etc.) and you’ve got our attention. Also, a significant number of colleges are beginning to require volunteer or service hours for graduation, which means we’re looking for ways to spend time loving others.
Providing an avenue for the younger generation to change the world (or at least someone’s world), while offering them a way to meet graduation requirements? Well. It just makes sense.