by Frank Muller
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One of the greatest mysteries of Jesus of Nazareth surrounds His teaching that “what you do or fail to do for the least of them you do or fail to do to me”.
This is the thought we want to carefully consider and ponder. Let us work through this notion and how it may become more present to us the nature of who He claims to be and what He claims to be doing and what our role is in that. Not to mention how unbelievably radical this teaching was then and remains so today.
The first question to consider is who are the “least” that He refers to? Throughout Scripture, Jesus refers again and again that He came to save and serve “sinners”, not just the “righteous”. In those times, as in today’s time, and throughout the future that is constrained by time Jesus takes upon himself and those who claim to know Him the call to save and serve “sinners”.
He claims that His purpose is to reconcile sinners to Himself and thus to God. That is, He is God made flesh. He goes further to claim that He loves all people, period, and that He wants all to be saved and reconciled. Simply said, the least of us is us because He says we are all sinners in either our thoughts, words, actions we performed or actions we failed to perform.
So, once again, just because I act or fail to act towards a sinner in a loving way, how is that a thing done or not done to them is on me? It is so, because He claims to take on all sin (from the beginning of time to the end) upon Himself and that every human that has existed or will exist will sin until all things are made new have sin within them. That is, in every created human being He is present to them because He takes sin upon Himself and thus is some mysterious way, he is within each of us because sin exists in us all.
In that divine presence, even in the evilest of people there will be moments of goodness and justice that have flowed from the Creator. This is the still, whispering voice of the Creator calling us to do good. This “image” which for many may be the dullest of reflections still has some good in them and that good comes from the Creator. The Creator loves His creation and seeks to save it from that which destroys it which is the disobedience of sin. No matter how vile we may view a person, Jesus sees something beautiful and wants to be with them forever by saving them from their sin.
Thus, the teaching is that all sin is a direct punishment to our Creator and to Jesus personally as He takes on all those sins. Every lie, every lustful act, every jealous or covetous ambition, every false idol we place in our lives, every desecration of the Sabbath is a direct blow of the nail in the wrist of Jesus. He is telling us that all of our personal sins are the lashes of the whip tearing away His skin. He is telling us that the sins of every person, they everyday mock and ridicule Him who is without sin and is blameless. He is telling us that it is personal, and not limited to just those Roman executioners.
So, it is as if He is saying that every sin ever committed or will be committed (by sinner or saints) is a torture to His body and that He will willingly bear that sin for us as an offering for our reconciliation to our Father God. This is why He says He came to die for His “friends” because He dwells in them as they dwell within Him. He is perfecting His commandment to love God and to love others, to sacrifice and to serve others for the forgiveness of sins. What kind of infinite love is this?
He goes on to say that this indwelling can even be partaken of physically by the consumption of His body. Therefore, in a supernatural sense He is indwelling all of Creation and in a real and physical sense can also become present to us now.
This teaching was so radical and offensive as Jesus sat down at table with sinners of the worst kind and actually enjoyed being in their company. He ate with them, He drank with them, He laughed with them, and He taught them. But here is the real message. He is not giving them a get out of jail free card with carte blanche to sin recklessly and selfishly because they think that if drink with Him, they are saved.
No, He tells these sinners to “repent, be baptized” and “go and sin no more”. He will offer to absorb the eternal damage of sin and all He asks is to love Him and others and to stop adding more punishment unto Him because He who is without sin will offer the perfect sacrifice.
Imagine that your dearest friend offers himself to the torturer and executioner for our personal crime. However, as we continue to sin, we are now whipping the lash and driving the nails into His flesh as He looks into our eyes. Sin is not abstract; sin is our personal addition to the crucifixion of He who came to save us. He is telling the religious authorities, the sinners and telling us today the exact same thing. We are all crucifying Him and yet somehow, He loves us, He forgives us, He holds no grudge. All He asks is for our love and thus stop hurting Him and all the others that He Loves.
Imagine, try to imagine deeply how at one moment we are broken down into tears as He is lead to the place of execution for our crime and then we walk up, look Him in the eye, and spit on Him. When we contemplate that this is what we are doing if there is any good in us, we should turn to Him and beg forgiveness. And what is amazing, He accepts our heartfelt confession if in our heart we resolve with HIs grace to sin no more and to serve and love those sinners who continue to torture Him so that they may stop and love Him and others too.
The next question that follows is how can we by our inactions or actions to a sinner be somehow doing it to Him? Oh, it is so easy to care for those we love, we like, we respect, we honor, we are subject to…. However, it is a far different thing to serve those we despise, we hate, we loathe, we are jealous of, we are resentful of…… This requires a denial of our self. Jesus is telling us that He is in every person. He is telling us to pray for Vladimir Putin, Adolph Hitler, and every sinner throughout time because He loves us all.
We are all taking our turn as the torturer and executioner through our own sins and our own inaction to call people out of sin in love and mercy. “Stop and sin no more” means stop torturing the One who loves us more than any created human can ever love us. When we sin in action or inaction, we see Jesus being tortured and He is calling on us to go and love that sinner and if Jesus is our friend and redeemer, we must act because how could we not?
Those most offended by His friendship with sinners were those who were charged with helping to bring people out of their sin by forgiveness and mercy. They were shocked and outraged that one should even be in their presence much less call them friends and claim the ability to bear the punishment for their sins and grant them forgiveness. This is the pride that can affect those who know the Law in their minds but have lost the Law in their hearts. Thus, the walk is always a battle against pride and its’ action which is lies and half-truths.
He speaks both to our words (minds) and our actions (hearts). He is calling us to a Unity of Life that aligns our inner world with our outer world actions and words. No more masks, no longer make up, no more surgeries to make us look better in order to hide the self-image we have of ourselves.
He calls us to call all people out of their sin in friendship because we ourselves have sinned (and continue to stumble) and thus we know we ourselves must show mercy and must share it. Point them to their Creator and share with them the mercy Jesus wants to give to all because He is in all. However, this calling them out is not to be a judgement because we ourselves have no authority to judge. This calling them out is spreading this good news and allowing people to learn and know the good and choose the good of their own free will that the Creator gave us. Only God’s Grace and their own free will cooperation with it will save them or us. Our job is simply to point towards that Truth in our words and in our conduct and pray for them always.
Thus, prayer and sacrifice and friendship are the primary tools of one who seeks to conform our shadowy image of the Lord into a clearer and more distinct image of who He actually is. Rejoice in the day when someone criticizes us for socializing with sinners! Rejoice in seeking forgiveness for the blows we rendered unto our Creator and struggle daily to love Him instead. Rejoice in loving others in this way because we are actually loving our Creator at the same time.
Not sharing the good news is not doing what we are asked to do. If we are humble and know our own sins, then we can love sinners (even the worst of them) because our God in some small way lives within them too.
He is with the least; He is with the greatest. He is with us all. This is what the friendship of Christ means because He can live within us more fully if we actively subdue our sinful wills with His Grace and to do His will which is to love Him and to love others because He is in all. He and we are one. All of the created are meant to be in unity with the Creator and with the created and this is the call to friendship and right worship. We are called to His Church that preaches this Truth and administers the mercy and forgiveness He offers through it.
Wherever we are in this process and our ultimate choice of how we will respond or not respond, it may be helpful to listen to a good book that can help explain this mystery, shed light on the Church that Jesus created, and shed light on how to rightly love the Creator and our Savior and how to rightly love one another as He did and does forever.
May Peace be with us all.