“I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” Matthew 25:40.
As some of you may know, I have been fortunate to live on the farm where I grew up. Here at the farm we have a small herd of cows that I care for. Over the years I have observed a few things about bovine behavior. Cows establish a hierarchy, a pecking order. Their rank is determined by who is stronger, who is able to push who away from the feed, protein tub or freshly filled hay rack. Once they have established the order, they seem to accept their position.
I have a cow I have named Twin Mama. She has raised two sets of twins. Because of her productivity, she is one of my favorite cows. But partly because of the stress of her productivity, her rank in the herd is at the very bottom. She is the last one to get a place at the feed trough.
One day recently, Twin Mama didn’t come up to eat with the other cows. I walked out in the pasture and found her with a new calf (just one). I was pleased to see she and her heifer calf were both healthy. As I walked back to the house, I reflected on how much I valued Twin Mama.
Then I thought about how, among the other cows, she is not respected.
Then I thought of all the stories from the gospels when Jesus dealt with outsiders: the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who reached out to touch the hem of his garment, the tax collectors, and so many others. Jesus showed all of them mercy and compassion. Jesus didn’t seem to participate in our earthly social hierarchies.
During this season of Lent, we are often encouraged to spend some time in reflection on our lives. Those of us who try to be followers of Jesus need to examine our lives. Do our culture’s hierarchies affect how we treat the people we encounter in our daily lives?
Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel tells us that the way we have treated the ‘least of these’ is the way we have treated Jesus. Have we offered food to the hungry? Have we offered water to the thirsty? Welcomed the stranger? Have we provided clothes and shelter to the homeless? Have we visited those incarcerated?