34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Gospel of Matthew, 25:34-36
Matthew quotes Jesus telling his followers that they welcomed him, visited him in prison, took care of him when he was sick. Those who are hearing this parable are confused, and they ask, when did we do that? And he answers “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
In the past, when I heard this parable, I was reminded to give food, water, visit the sick and so on. I saw this as what Christ was calling me to do, and I gladly did so.
Only recently have I been on the receiving end of such gifts, and now do I understand even more how important it is to not only “take care of the least of these” but to be the least of these.
Let me explain. In my house we are calling this past summer and early fall the season of surgery. My wife had knee replacement surgery in July; we planned for this and thought we were prepared, or as well as one can be.
But at the end of June, when I had my annual routine mammogram, I was told I needed to schedule biopsies. We scheduled them for the end of July, figuring that my wife’s knee replacement recovery would be well along by then. I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in August. We didn’t plan for that! And so, we were dealing with two surgeries; scheduling them, recovering from them, dealing with them.
We are an inter-faith family; my wife is Jewish, and we belong to a synagogue. I am Presbyterian and active in my church. We had never been on the receiving end of visits, food, prayers, but now we had two faith communities caring for us. And I found this very humbling.
I appreciated the visits, the cards, the food more than I ever thought possible. My friend Margery calls the food gifts “love on a plate” and they were. A friend from our shul brought dinner over one night; I didn’t realize that I was too tired to cook anything until I sat down and ate food someone else had prepared for me. Others brought us soup, zucchini bread, homemade ice cream.
Now that we both have recovered from our respective surgeries, and I have been told that I will be absolutely fine (following radiation), I have had time to reflect. This experienced has taught me that being on the receiving end of care is a humbling experience, especially in our culture where strength and independence are valued so highly. A friend from church reminded me that “people want to help you-let us help!” and so we did.
I have been changed by being “one of the least of these.” Being cared for in ways big and small has made me realize that I am not in control, God is, and God provides in every way, if only we will let God do so.
May you see God in everyone you meet, and may you, too, experience God’s love and care.
Connie Knapp is a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown and a participant in the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of the Hudson River Presbytery.