I was shopping today at a big name general merchandise store, just waiting my turn in line to checkout. There was a lady with her two daughters checking out at the register. When she saw the total, she grimaced a little and then asked the cashier to start pulling items off… healthy snacks for lunches… bread…. a couple more items…. From the look on her face and the reaction of her girls, I surmised this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Then a man in line asked the clerk to put the items back on the bill and he would cover the difference. Such a simple act. From his appearance, it wasn’t much for him (about $12). Maybe he’d have to miss a takeout meal this week and eat a sandwich instead. The woman was grateful, of course, and the kids were happy. Life went on.
Later on, as I reflected on this simple event, I started to wonder, what if the woman and her girls hadn’t been nicely dressed and pretty? Would the man still have helped? What if they’d spoken a different language? What if their ancestors had come from a different continent than his? What if they’d been tattooed and pierced? What if she had, in her embarrassment, lashed out in anger at the clerk?
My thoughts then drifted to how often I go into the world among people and never see them as people. I get out of my truck and go shopping as if on a mission. The people around me don’t come to my attention unless it’s as a distraction or interruption of my mission.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation 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 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 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 invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
Notice He did not say ‘if it’s convenient’, nor did he say ‘make sure to pay your taxes so there are programs for the poor’. I also don’t think He meant for our helping to necessarily be something special we go out of our way to do. He meant for our attitude to be one of always looking for ways to help those around us. I’m sure that the list He gave is incomplete and also that those who are sick and in prison are not always in an institution. What about the prison of hate or anger or pain? What about the sickness of loneliness or strife?
May God help us all to get out of our shell of self-centeredness and notice those around us, and give us the love and grace for them that He has given to us.