Boston has a great program that finds a way to bring health care to the people on the street. Boston Health Care for the Homeless, founded in 1985 by Dr. Jim O’Connell, is a network of medical professionals and hospitals that care for people who are homeless and often help them transition into permanent living situations. Dr. O’Connell leads the way by reaching out at night with supplies and food two nights a week, laughing and talking with people who are homeless. He meets their needs and wins their trust so that these people who might be described as “the least of us” by society, will be willing to get help. The key to meeting the needs of people, is other people making the effort to care.
Jesus told us a parable about that. He described a time of judgment where people are separated into sheep and goats. The sheep are commended for their service to him. The goats are condemned for not serving him. They both asked the king the same basic question: when did we serve you? (or when did we fail to serve you?) The answer Jesus gave could be a stern warning, or it might be comforting, depending on our own actions. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
I think most of us who follow Jesus know that we’re supposed to care for others. If we’re staying true to our faith, we want to. The problem is that most of us are overwhelmed. Look at this list of people we’re to care for, those who are: hungry, thirsty, strangers, needing clothing, sick, or in prison. (And to be honest, there are times that the list might be expanded.) People who are trying to follow Christ will often set out to care for all those people and become exhausted without reaching half of the list. We look back and instead of being grateful for the opportunity to minister to people who are hungry, we berate ourselves for not reaching out to those in prison. The list has become not a guide to focus our efforts towards finding ways to help people, but a whip to drive us into a frenzy of service lest we be sent to hell. If we take that attitude, we’re missing out on the joy of serving our King and living a miserable existence under this non-existent Law.
I think the purpose of this list is to give us guidance in thinking about others. Most of us can find ways to care for people in one or two areas on that list. We should make a special effort to focus on those areas then. If we’re focused on feeding the hungry and the opportunity to care for someone who’s sick pops up, then we should do it, but our primary focus would still be on feeding the hungry. I know a couple of ladies who have developed an amazing ministry to prisoners on death row. I can’t imagine Jesus looking at them and saying, “Not bad on caring for those in prison, but other people needed clothes and you didn’t get all of them clothed.” Ultimately, the key is not that we’re ministering to the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, etc. The key is that we are caring for people, people created in God’s image. They may be people with a specific need. It may be certain groups of people who have lots of needs. When we care for people intentionally and opportunistically, we are caring for the God who loves each of those people.
Oh, Lord, put people in front of me that I may minister to today. Help me find out their needs. Help me to help them in a way that shows them Your love and Your grace. Let any ministry I do draw them closer to You.