January 6, 2014

Introducing the Why

“Can I wash your windows?”

I was with my wife and two nieces in the parking lot of a local Chipotle. It was Saturday night, and we were looking forward to a relaxing night of food and fun. Almost out of nowhere, the grungy man appeared, startling our small group.

My car had just been washed, so I was honest with the man, not allowing my moving feet to pause on the pavement. Then he asked if I had any change. I didn’t, so once again, my reply was swift. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any.” By this point I was just trying to end the conversation.

The man looked at me, his voice broken and sincere. “No problem; I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

“You didn’t bother me,” I replied, a bit taken back.

It didn’t occur to me until about 60 seconds later, when we were already at the back of the long burrito joint line, that I hadn’t asked if the man was hungry. The passage I’d read that morning came crashing into my mind.

For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:35, 40).

I looked back at the parking lot, but the man was gone, and with him the opportunity to feed Jesus Himself.

Missed Opportunities

If we’re honest, we’re all a bit desensitized. How many times have we just kept walking, ignoring the pleas of a beggar on a busy street?

How many times have we purposely distracted ourselves, fumbling with the radio dial, to avoid the eyes of a man on a median holding nothing but a cardboard sign?

And how many times have we instinctively said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any,” whether it’s true or not.

He’ll probably spend it on alcohol and drugs. And even if he is just hungry, you can’t help them all, right?

I’ve done all of the above and come up with a thousand excuses to salve my searing conscience. Yet, as I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, I’m convicted that coming up with a fresh excuse isn’t the correct answer.

Jesus starts the parable by dividing everyone into two groups. Those on His right He joyfully commends for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned. The ones on His left are condemned for ignoring the exact same needs.

What’s most intriguing about this parable is that the condemned seem genuinely surprised by their fate, as evidenced by their response to Jesus. “Lord, when did we see you . . . and . . . not help you?” (verse 44).

Jesus’ point: These are not the outright wicked; otherwise, they wouldn’t be surprised by His rebuke. No, as Ellen White wrote in her commentary on this parable, many of them were “church” people.

“In costly dwellings and splendid churches, the rich shut themselves away from the poor; the means that God has given to bless the needy is spent in pampering pride and selfishness.”1

There are times, such as that Saturday night, that I know that statement applies to me. Understanding Adventist theology is great, leading Sabbath school is important, and writing for the Review reaches thousands of people every month.

But that all means nothing if Jesus is standing right in front of me hungry, thirsty, naked, or sick, and I do nothing but give dismissive answers to end the encounter so I can enjoy my Saturday night.

It’s true: you and I cannot meet the needs of every down-and-out person walking the dirty streets of our world. But today we can make a difference for someone with whom we cross paths.

Christian recording artist Jason Gray says it like this: “God put a million, million doors in the world for His love to walk through. One of those doors is you.”2

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to run low on excuses.

  1. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 639.
  2. “With Every Act of Love” (2013).