As a 13-year-old boy from a small town in the South, the words social injustice were two words that had no relevance to my life. In fact, the idea that many would lie down at the end of the day with an empty stomach, feeling a chill in the air and with no place to call home was foreign to me. That is what made my first trip to our nation’s capitol a life-altering experience for me-both for the social exposure I gained and the lesson I was taught concerning community as Christ intended.
It was a beautiful day as our school group strolled into an open field adjacent to the Smithsonian Museum. We energetically unpacked our brown bag lunches and scattered to various areas to sit and relax after a long day of typical tourism. As we allowed our senses to be overcome with the nature surrounding us, we began to notice the random movements of people from park bench to park bench. It didn’t take long to recognize that these people were not tourists like us, but rather they were residents of this serene place we were enjoying. The typical possessions of houses and HDTVs that have become markers in most communities were replaced here by borrowed benches and brown boxes. Why were these people homeless? What were the circumstances behind each face of desperation and disappointment? And more importantly, what could we do to help?
Instantly we flexed our spiritual muscles and did what any good Christian would do. Gathering up uneaten apples, half-empty potato chip bags, and soggy sandwiches, we presented an offering to the nearest citizen as a small token of our grace and mercy towards him. What a lucky guy, we thought. Unaware of the provision for his next meal, this man now had food for a week, and it was all because of our gracious act of kindness.
As we walked away from the scene, almost losing our balance due to the constant pats on the back we administered to one another, we began to see the true meaning of community and service unfold right before our very eyes. The box of food, which could have fed this guy for days to come, was being slowly depleted with each stop along his delivery route. The man went from bench to bench, person to person, delivering to his “neighbors” a small portion of what he had been given only moments before. By the end of his route, the man sat back down at his home and enjoyed the apple and sandwich he had saved for himself. He smiled with each bite, reflecting so much joy, and taught an invaluable lesson to those of us who had been blinded by our own self-righteousness.
Jesus had something to say about service and community. In Matthew 25 we find the importance that He placed on service when He spoke these words: “‘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 gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me'” (Matthew 25:34-40).
As we walk through this life, may we always be looking for ways in which we can serve the least of these. With each mouth we feed, thirst we quench, stranger we welcome, back we clothe, and sick we aid, we are serving the body of Christ. May we always see Jesus’ face through the faces of those we come in contact with each day. With each life touched through our actions, true Christian community begins to unfold.
Did I see the face of God through the eyes of my new teacher as he made his way to toss his apple core in the trash? Through my 9th grade eyes, probably not. But next time, I hope I will.