The Least of These

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I watched a woman be rude to a Macy’s employee yesterday. Not in a way that I could have stopped. But she communicated clearly that she thought the Macy’s employee was personally responsible for the fact that the clothes she had purchased didn’t fit and wasn’t smart enough to make it right.

When she left, the Macy’s lady was so upset that her hands were shaking. I tried to compensate. “It’s the holidays! People should be brimming with good cheer!”

“They aren’t, though,” she sighed. “This is the time of year when people are the most rude.”

After Macy’s, I wandered into the Christian book store next door.

Guess who was working behind the counter, next to the Keep Christ in Christmas bumper stickers? “God bless you”, she told me pleasantly as I left.

I’m not taking an easy shot at Christians here. I know folks are folks and moments are moments. But I also know the difference between someone having a bad day and someone who is intrinsically not a nice person.

The Gospel reading on Sunday was Matthew 25: 31-46. Maybe it’s because our religious leaders know we need to hear these things as the holidays kick off. All of us are familiar with the command to feed, clothe, visit, heal. Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me. Our churches and communities will put lots of opportunities to do these things in front of us for the next few weeks.

It’s the second half of the Gospel we have to think about. When Jesus tells the ones on the left that they are damned, they protest: Lord, when did we not serve You? And He says When you did not serve them, you did not serve Me.

We can feed all the homeless kids we want in the next five weeks. We can take our kids shopping for the Giving Tree and feel good that we are teaching them compassion for others. We can serve turkey dinners to veterans, sing for the old and infirm in nursing homes, pay for the groceries of the young mom in front of us in line. But let’s be honest with ourselves: those things are a slam dunk. We know that Jesus will be there.

But He’s standing behind that counter at Macy’s too, with tired feet and an aching back.

He’s loading those kids into the car as fast as He can in the crowded parking lot.

He’s working his fourth overtime in a row because His company insists on “Holiday Hours”.

He’s trying to solve our complaint call with His limited resources.

It’s harder to see Him there, so it’s harder to serve Him there. But in the Gospel, when the damned protest that they just didn’t know, Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook. He tells them that walking His Walk is an all-the-time thing, not a when-we-feel-like-it thing.

If they’ll know we are Christians by our love, it won’t be the love we show when it’s easy. It’ll be when the parking lot is crowded, the lines are long, the packages are late and the children are screaming.

And that’s how we keep Christ in Christmas, by remembering to serve Christ in everyone, all the time.

 

 

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