Yesterday in church we talked about what Jesus says in Matthew 25. All the nations and people of the world—all of us—are standing before him, and he’s talking to the people who will be going to heaven. He’s telling them why they are blessed. Here’s what he says (this is the ESV… my personal version of choice… but hey, to each his or her own):
“Then the King will say to those on his 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 gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
I’ve been working really hard on writing a memoir of my experience with anxiety and depression (my second “Relational EP”). It’s been pretty difficult at times, to be honest. I have to dive back into all the feelings and loneliness and try and describe those feelings in ways that people will be able to understand—whether or not they have ever dealt with depression.
All that to say, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and processing about the times in my life that I have felt the lowest.
So then this passage gets read in church yesterday and I realize something: Jesus is placing himself in the people who are hungry and thirsty and lonely and naked and sick and imprisoned. I’ve always read that passage as, “The righteous people who did those nice things were Jesus because they helped the least of these.” But in reality it is saying, “The righteous people who did those things were showing Jesus’s love to Jesus himself.”
Do you see the difference?
Jesus wasn’t just with the righteous people, he physically was the sick and lowly and least-of-these people. He was in both groups of people, but he identifies with the least of these.
As I’ve been writing about depression and anxiety, I’ve felt pretty lowly. I’ve felt pretty least-of-these. I just wrote a chapter about lying in bed and wanting to sleep in order to escape my thoughts and fears and loneliness. I laid under my comforter and just wanted comfort.
And today in church I felt like Jesus told me, “I was with you. I was in you during that time.” And when my dad would come into my room and hug me and pray for me? Jesus was with me then, too. My dad was being one of those righteous people and Jesus was with both of us.
However, please don't think I am comparing myself with people who are destitute, homeless, or hungry. Their experience is clearly not mine, and I am not trying to minimize "the least of these."
We have been given a mission in Matthew 25 to serve the least of these. We are called to fight poverty and stand up for justice and love those who don’t have love. And we are supposed to do it tangibly. (Remember that passage that says, “Don’t just say to someone who is hungry ‘Go and be blessed’ but actually give them food?” That is very tangible.) The “least of these” are Jesus. They have Jesus’s love all in them and over them and through them. Perhaps it is us who get to reveal that love to them.
BUT I think there will also be times where we hit rock bottom, whatever state rock bottom looks like for us. There will be or have been times in life that we are the least of these. We will need people to hug us when we are lonely in bed. We will be sitting on mountainsides begging God to send someone our way, and Aron Tillema will suddenly sit beside us and ask us how we are doing (PS Aron, I’m talking about you)(PSS everyone needs an Aron in their life).
In those times, even though the world sucks and feels upside-down and wrong-side-out, we must remember that Jesus identifies with us. He relates with us because he says he is us in Matthew 25.
He shed blood in the garden and died on the cross and experienced, as the author of Hebrews says, every form of suffering, so that he could relate with us in our suffering.
Jesus is the least of these. He’s not just the righteous people who help the least of these. He is the least of these.
And that is a freeing thought for an anxious guy writing about his depressed past.
I hope that is a freeing thought for you as well.