just the words we need to hear

A thought this morning from the continuing hospitality discussion on Jesus Radicals...

I think that "radical" hospitality (and other good deeds) that are motivated by passages like the sheep and goats parable of Mt 25 can often be done more for ourselves than for the ones we're serving. Trying to "see Jesus" or "encounter Christ" in our care for the poor. Looking for a fuller experience for ourselves or a deepening of our own spiritual lives. Which is perhaps not the best motivation for loving others, is it?

But we often do encounter Christ in the experience, just not like we expected. It's often not so much Jesus saying to us "Well done, good and faithful servant" as what he said more often with his disciples, "O ye of little faith!" These, though, may be just the words we need to hear. So the experience is what God wanted for us after all.

Part of the learning, at least for me, is that serving others (especially the most vulnerable) shouldn't be about my own encounter with Christ. It should be about loving my neighbor, about their needs, not mine. That's part of why I resist an emphasis on Mt 25 in this context (I notice that in Mt 25 the righteous do not know that it is Jesus that they are serving; see Mt 25.37-39). When their needs are my focus, then there's no value in sentimentalizing them, or pretending they are mystically more holy than they really are. It's just about seeing their real needs and responding the best we can. Like the good Samaritan did. Seeing them not as some "blessed" category (because they are poor or afflicted) but just as human beings who have needs and failings and brokenness like any other. Who need Jesus' healing just as we do. And sometimes Jesus' rebuke, just as we do.

Then I think we're much closer to experiencing Jesus present, not just "to" us, but in us and through us.