“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40 NIV)
For most of my “growing up” years, my father was the pastor of a church. Most of his churches were rather small congregations that he served part-time while working at a “day job.”
His only “full-time” church was in south Texas, where we lived when I was about six. Now, being a PK (Preacher’s Kid), I was accustomed to other people inviting our family to eat with them. Likewise, we would have other families eat with us at the parsonage as well.
I looked forward to those times. For one thing, there were usually other children to play with. But the best reason for having folks over for dinner was my mother would usually fix something special to eat.
That is what I expected one evening when a family came to our door. Being rather young, I didn’t pay too much attention to the circumstances of their arrival. I just thought they were some new church folks that my parents had invited to dinner. And they had a couple of kids. I was really looking forward to playing with them.
However, before I realized what was going on, I noticed that the family had been herded out of the house and into my father’s office that was off of the garage. “Curious,” I thought.
My mother and my older sister busied themselves in the kitchen making some dish I had never seen before. It had some kind of reddish looking meat mixed in with diced potatoes and onions. I asked them what it was, and they told me it was corned beef hash. Never heard of it. But I was game to try it. In fact, I was looking forward to it. “Must be some really special dish,” I thought.
However, when my mother and sister were finished cooking the food, they dished it up and took it out to the garage. It was not until later in the evening that our family sat down to our own meal. I don’t remember what we had, but it wasn’t corned beef hash.
“How come we are not eating that hash stuff?” I asked.
My mother replied, “Oh, that is for ‘those people,’” as she nodded her head toward the garage.
“How come we aren’t eating with them? I wondered.
“We don’t eat with folks like that,” she responded.
“Why not?” I wanted to know.
My mother simply said, “Hush now. Don’t ask any more questions.”
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that this family had come to our house asking for food because they were hungry and in need. They had come to us because we lived at “the preacher’s house.”
After all, we church folks are supposed to feed the hungry, right? Well, we did that. We did indeed. However … we didn’t treat them very well. We treated them as if they had some kind of disease or something.
We treated them like there was something wrong with them. But there really wasn’t. They were just hungry.
Jesus made it clear that, as Christians, we are to feed the hungry and to help care for those in need. But how are we to do this? With what kind of attitude?
Certainly my parents were not right to feed that family with the kind of attitude they had for them. They treated them out of an attitude of duty and obligation along with an attitude of disgust and disdain for them. It took me years to be able to shake myself of those same kinds of attitudes.
Jesus not only commanded us to feed the hungry, he also commanded us to do all that we do with an attitude of love. Jesus only told us eight (8) times that we are to love him or to love God. On the other hand, he told us a total of eighteen (18) times that we are to love others. Of those eighteen times, he told us three times “love your neighbor as yourself,” and he also told us three times “love your enemies.”
However, Jesus went even further than that. He said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then he went on to add, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40 NIV)
I regret that our family treated Jesus like we did that day.
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)