This posting will probably make more sense if you begin with yesterday’s post: What is it to reach out.
The next question I wanted to explore was “Why should we be outward reaching people?”
Jesus tells us that being outward reaching is the most important thing we can do.
“You are the salt of the Earth. But what good is salt if it loses flavor?…You are the light of the world like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly father.” Mathew 5 13-16
What’s the point of salt that doesn’t taste like anything?
What’s the point of a light that you can’t see?
There is none.
What’s the point of following Christ and hiding it?
There is none.
The reason that we should shine is so that people will notice God and thank him for our kindness.
It’s easy to look at these stories and call them figurative. We’re not salt. We’re not lights. Sometimes Jesus overstates the case to make a point: it’s a device called hyperbole. Are the above claim hyperbolic?
One way to notice when Jesus is being hyperbolic is to ask if we can take the passage literally. Clearly we’re not lights or salt. So perhaps we’ll wonder about this, and just take it all as a suggestion that we reach out… Jesus politely requesting that we reach out when it’s convenient for us to.
If this sentiment were never revisited in scripture, it would be fair enough to fail to take it literally. However, the gospels do circle back to this idea, repeatedly. Let’s take a look at one example:
“Then the king will say to those on the right, ‘ come you who are blessed by my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothes. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.
Then the righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will tell them, “I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”
(Mathew 26 34-40)
There’s not so much wiggle room here. There’s no good reason to take this as a metaphor. We’re not pretending to be salt. We’re not imagining that we’re light.
We’re confronted with a very basic question:
What have we done, today, for the prisoner, for the naked, for the starving.
Jesus could have used figurative language. He could have said “It’s like mistreating me when you mistreat them.” He could have said “abusing me is similar to mistreating them.” He certainly knew how to say “Don’t mistreat them any more than you mistreat me.”
But he didn’t.
He said mistreating them IS mistreating him.
This leads me to ask a very hard question to myself, and to you.
The question I have to ask is this: How have we been treating Jesus? The powerless, the naked, the hungry, the lost… These people are Jesus among us. How have we been treating him?
There is this image that haunts me.
The image is that I might come to this place, and sing, and pray, and raise my hands to my creator. I might fill my heart with so much love for him that I feel transported.
And then the sermon ends… and I go about my daily life. And this Jesus that I love so much is all around me but I’m too foolish to see it. I am haunted that I might promise my love on Sundays to him, and then neglect and abuse him for the next six days, until the next Sunday, when I start the whole cycle of abuse again.
It’s interesting to notice something about the passage: the people who are reaching out, they don’t do it because they know Jesus is the least among them. They are as surprised as the people who’d been mistreating the poor and oppressed that Jesus was in those that they fed, clothed, visited.
They weren’t looking for heavenly frequent flyer points. They aren’t motivated out of a desire to score brownie points from Jesus. They just do it because it’s the right thing to do.
We’re considering the question right now “Why should we reach out?”
Here’s the really short answer: Because Jesus told us to.
And here’s a slightly longer answer: Because Jesus, somehow, is in those who we reach out to. And Jesus is in us when others reach out to us.