The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me."
~ Matthew 25: 40
Yesterday I spent several hours with a family who lost a dear matriarch. While we waited the nearly three hours for the funeral home to arrive, I sat and listened as several family members shared their memories. Because the person could not afford a funeral service, the scene became the final viewing for the woman, and ultimately her funeral.
The news began to travel that she had died, and before long, a series of visitors arrived. Each expressing grief as they saw her initially, and then the sharing of stories.
It reminded me of stories of when people would die at home and the viewing and service would take place in the parlor of the home. In many ways I was grateful for the time the family and friends of the woman had to gather.
Twice in the time that we were together, people invited me to lead the group in prayer. Both times I understood the sacred request, and twice, I was reminded that we were no longer strangers, but brothers and sisters, acknowledging the loss of one of our own.
I must admit, I am often reminded of the poverty that exists around us, but yet, in the physical existence of poverty there exists a spiritual treasure. I was no longer a stranger, and was offered something to drink, and invited to sit at the family table to share in some fresh-baked cookies that a neighbor brought in, "Just because," the woman who had died had made cookies for others in the past.
During the years of working with the homeless in Houston, there were many times when I realized I was no longer a stranger, but a welcomed friend. The gift of hospitality is one that I often discover among those who many would claim to be the, "least of these."
Those who are marginalized in the world are essentially the heart of the body of Christ. That is exactly how it is supposed to be! As the living instruments of Christ, we are called to continue to keep going to the marginalized in our society. The homeless, those who hunger, children who are political pawns, those who are labeled as "other," and those who are reminded that they somehow are not welcomed... these are the ones we are called to seek out first.
As I stood on the porch of the second story apartment as the funeral home representative arrived, I asked what I could do to help? "Stand here and make sure no one walks off with my gurney."
I shrugged at his words and wanted to tell him what I had experienced over the last several hours. Of neighbors coming to pay their respects, of strangers hugging one another, and of genuine acts of love that had been extended. He was a stranger in a strange land, and he was not about to open his eyes and see a woman who had been loved by many, who happened to be poor, and was about to be taken from the community that she had become a part of.
I was reminded in that moment that the Body of Christ can be renewed and be a place of wholeness when we shift our attention from ourselves to those who need our care. The blessing of Jesus always comes to us through the poor, the stranger, and simply the "least of these."
As I got into my car after watching several friends and family of the woman help to carry her to the gurney, strap her body down, and then walk on either side to the van that awaited, I was reminded that once again it is the poor that is leading us closer to Christ. As always, the marginalized give us more than they ever receive.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.