Most of the themes include caring for the poor, the widow and orphan; protecting people from injustices like being cheated, or being falsely accused; protect the sojourners on your land, the visitors and the ones who are wandering (with or without your permission); caring for those in your family and community whether or not you like them. These minor themes add up to the “Golden Rule” that can be summed up as “do to others as you would like it to be done to you.” This is how we “love our neighbors as ourself,” as Jesus taught.
When you combine these minor themes we begin to see how the big theme of God’s love for us becomes intertwined into the fabric of every day life. Moreover, Jesus tells us this is how we will be judged (both by God and by others). He says in essence that your faith will only get you so far. You have to put that faith to work, believing in your heart that God’s love is real and God’s command to share it with others is not to be rejected or denied to someone.
Thus Jesus said, in so many words, that it matters how you care for the widow and the orphan (the most vulnerable), the naked, hungry, and thirsty (the neediest), the sick and the dying (those who can’t help themselves), and of course the captives and the prisoners (those whose sole survival is in your hands). He teaches us that the way we care for the “least of these, our brothers and sisters” who rely on the generosity and charity of others is the way you and I will be judged or recognized by God.
I’ll admit, these are hard words to hear from Jesus. But when I give them some thought I realize many of us do this without really knowing that we are doing God’s work. We donate clothes to Goodwill and local homeless shelters, we give money a couple of times a year to groups that feed the poor, we call Grandma every week to make sure she is cared for, and we are there to listen to a neighbor who is all alone. And bring chicken soup to her when she’s not feeling well.
But what about the prisoner or the one who is a captive? What about the person trapped in an addiction? Or someone who has been locked up for a crime he might or might not have committed? There are plenty of “not so friendly” people we don’t want to be around or think about simply because they scare us.
While I pray for them every Sunday in church, do I really think about them beyond that? I know there are many great ministries in prisons across America that are transforming lives through the love of God that has been given to us all through Jesus Christ. But do I get involved? No. I’m not that interested in jeopardizing my family or risking my safety. These are criminals after all. But that’s not what God called me to do. And it bothers me.
This morning, as I was walking my dog, I watched a ditch digger look up from his work as a prison bus was driving by. While holding his shovel in one hand he raised his other and waved. As the bus passed, he did the sign of the cross (I’ll safely assume he is catholic). This one simple gesture said it all.
I can only imagine what it must feel like to be sitting on that bus heading to the courthouse. The emptiness in your soul being filled with fear of what is to come. But then, you see Jesus standing in a trench, sweaty and dirty, stopping to acknowledge you as a human, and offering you a prayer and a blessing to make you right with God. A taste of heaven, a small seed of hope planted, before facing judgment and the hell one’s made.
Sometimes we don't need to do much to share the love of God that has been so generosly shared with us. A simple wave hello, a quick prayer, an acknowledgment of another’s humanity...this is how we feed, clothe, and care for the least of these. And how we testify to the love of God as Jesus taught us to do. The question then becomes, are you willing to weave such actions into the fabric of your life?