Is He The Least of These?

How one leader learned a valuable lesson about the love of Christ in the midst of trying to serve and lead others.

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Is He The Least of These?

Russell Dietrich | Apr 12, 2018, 14:38 PM

How one leader learned a valuable lesson about the love of Christ in the midst of trying to serve and lead others.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)

The least of these? The least of these? These words kept ringing around in my head. Is this guy really the least of these?

I had found myself in Sante Fe, Texas, a small farm town about 20 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. I was with a group of 20 other people, all of whom had decided to to participate in the hurricane relief efforts in Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston metropolitan area in the late summer of 2017, so during my church’s winter planning meetings, we felt a burden to send a group to help during our spring break. My church, Illini Life Christian Fellowship, believes it’s our calling as the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need, and following the devastating destruction of Harvey, it was clear that the whole metropolitan area of Houston was in need of help. The destruction of Harvey was devastating and rampant. The Office for Coastal Management has estimated that Harvey has caused over $125 billion worth of damage. There was (and still is) a lot of work to be done, and our church wanted to participate. We partnered with an organization called Eight Days of Hope and galvanized a team of 21 people (three staff from Illini Life, three working professionals, and 15 college students) and assembled a five-vehicle caravan to embark on the 950-mile journey from Illinois to the great state of Texas. We played walkie-talkie trivia, ate countless Uncrustables, and got a little lost in Little Rock, Arkansas. We arrived in Houston on a Sunday night and got placed at our worksites by Eight Days of Hope early Monday morning.

And that’s how I found myself in Sante Fe, muttering to myself about the least of these. We had made it down to Texas because many people had sacrificed their time, money, and more-pleasurable spring break options, all for the sake of serving a homeowner in need. But as we rolled up to our homeowner’s house and met him, I was instantly confronted with a deep sense of cynicism in my heart.

Our homeowners name was Sam, and he drove a nice truck. He was not destitute poor; he was gainfully employed, had good relationships with his kids (one of whom worked construction), and had experience hanging drywall. As our team got acclimated to the worksite and began the preparations for hanging drywall in his house, he kept mentioning to me that he could hang drywall himself. The more I talked to Sam, the more I began to feel that this wasn’t the “dream” photo opportunity I had been envisioning of rescuing someone from floodwaters in my fishing boat. Instead I helped drag down 15 college students across five state lines to help a guy who didn’t seem to want it. These negative thoughts were starting to deteriorate into frustrations, and I began to ask myself, is he really the least of these? There’s no way this is what Jesus had in mind.

The city I grew up in, Chicago, was essentially built on top of a swamp, so I’m well-acquainted with flooding. Every spring it was an almost seasonal holiday where our basement would flood, and we’d end up losing photo albums filled with precious memories or beloved pieces of furniture or musical instruments. And after every flood, as we loaded the basement with dehumidifiers, we would start the annual battle of mold. And it was through reflecting on my minor experiences with flooding that I began to recall just how deflating it was when it happened and how hard it was to lose large portions of your belongings and space. I also recalled how hard it was for my parents to ask for help because we should be able to take care of ourselves as a family. Flooding has a way of setting a household back because it requires a ton of work to successfully repair things in a mold-free way, and it’s destruction you can’t always predict.

As I began to compare in my mind the minor Midwest flooding I grew up with to the onslaught of rain that Hurricane Harvey poured out, I realized how much of an impact this hurricane must have had on our homeowner. Hurricanes don’t care about where you work, they don’t care about how much money you make, they don’t care about what side of the train tracks you grew up on — the rains of hurricanes are indiscriminate as they destroy everything in their paths. And the reality for our homeowner Sam’s life is that his entire home was destroyed by a hurricane. He lost most of his earthly possessions, and overnight he became homeless.

As I’m prone to do with suspiciously negative thoughts in my mind, I talked to my co-worker about it during a break. Full-disclosure: My co-worker was surprised by my cynicism and hadn’t thought about it that way. My friend mentioned that it had been almost seven months since the Hurricane hit, and his home was still just studs. The progress he was making by himself was slow, and any help he may have had access to wasn’t materializing into actual labor. My friend was excited to help Sam because we were going to be able to do something that would take him months in a matter of days. Later on that day, as I was talking to our homeowner, he asked me, “Would you guys be able to focus on the ceilings? Because hanging drywall that high is real tough for me.” In that brief moment of vulnerability, I was slapped with the realization that I had been unfairly judging Sam and not taking into account the embarrassment a man can feel when he asks for help. I mean, I hate asking my own friends and family for help, so I can only imagine what a blow to an ego it would be to ask complete strangers for help. Especially when the strangers are sometimes 40 years younger than you. Our homeowner’s choice to communicate a need to Eight Days of Hope was a brave act of humility, and I realized that a person’s willingness to ask is all that should be required for them to receive indiscriminate help. What business is it of mine to make a judgement call on his deservedness?

As a Christian, sometimes I feel this pressure to “selectively steward my charity work.” I think this is missing the mark. Jesus showed us love and did good to us indiscriminately, and He did this to the point of death on a cross. From this amazing act of humility, I’m now given the ability to love and serve others in the same reckless way.

So was Sam “the least of these”? I don’t know. And to be blunt, who cares? Because at the end of the day, our homeowner needed help, and we had a group of young people excited to do just that. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes that “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). And our team did a lot of good. In the course of three and a half days, our drywall crew of about 11 people hung over 110 sheets of drywall (and yes, they made sure to sink the screws). Our students and working folks showed our homeowner a lot of love in the name of Jesus and served him without ever questioning once his worth or whether or not he deserved it. Unbeknownst to them, as I watched this small group of college students love and serve him, it taught me a valuable lesson and convicted me to renew my mind and not be mired in unhelpful and judgmental thinking. And that’s how it goes, right? The leader gets led. The helper gets helped. And the haughty get humbled. I’m proud of our team for the work they did, and I’m thankful for our homeowner and the opportunity he gave us to do good. Without people like him asking for help, we’d never know where to do good.