Bloom Where You Are Planted
I find myself returning to this passage frequently. Partly it’s because I’m afraid of the second half, vv. 41-46. In these verses Jesus describes what will happen to those who don’t help their brothers and sisters—the “least of these.” It’s this that worries me—and I’m not alone.
When he was near death, Fred Rogers, the man behind Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, asked his wife, “Do you think I’m a sheep?” If, after all he had done for generations of kids, he was worried about making the cut, shouldn’t I be at least a little fearful?
It seems to me with all the time Christians spend talking about “getting saved,” and being “born again,” at least a little time should be spent making sure we’re doing what we can to help Jesus’ brothers and sisters—our brothers and sisters. There is so much suffering, so much injustice, so much poverty, so much hatred. Shouldn’t we make sure Christ’s love is extended to those who are the victims of poverty, injustice, and hatred?
All too often we try to ease our consciences by throwing a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle, or giving a few canned goods to the local food pantry, or, in the case of our church, donating to and helping run our clothes closet, which makes clothing available to those who need it without cost.
As worthwhile as these pursuits may be, they are band aids on deep wounds. They may help relieve the suffering for a moment, but they are not permanent solutions to the long-standing problems so many face day after day.
As I read these two passages I come to believe that Jesus’ lists are not prescriptive but suggestive. The lists were valid for the time in which they were spoken, and have some validity today, but they are not extensive enough for our more complex society. Yes, we should clothe the naked. Yes, we should give food and drink to those who are hungry and thirsty. Yes, we should provide hospital chaplaincy and prison ministry for those who need them. These ministries are needed today—sorely needed. But we should we also be fighting for
Internet access for those where there is little or none.
Grocery stores in food deserts.
Meaningful education for inner city and rural populations
Adequate healthcare, housing, and jobs for the working and non-working poor.
If we do not address these problems a drink of water, a food card to MacDonald’s, some clothing, or an occasional visit to a hospital or prison won’t mean much. The deep wounds will continue to bleed because no amount of band aids are enough.
We may not be able to fight injustice like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Senator John Lewis. We may not be able to stir the hearts of our fellow Christians like our outstanding preachers. We may not be able to fund huge projects for change like Bill Gates. But we can bloom where we are planted. We can work for and vote for candidates for public office who promise to do something about those who are caught in generational poverty. We can volunteer our time in schools to help give our children and young people a sense of self-worth that will keep them from making bad decisions. We can support legislation that makes health care available to every citizen, no matter how poor or ill they may be.
This is what God calls us to do. From the books of the Torah through Jesus’ words and actions in the gospels we see that our calling is to be sheep, and to be the best sheep we can be.