“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me ... . “
The speaker in this Biblical text is Jesus. He continues ... “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”
“My family”. God’s family. All people are our relatives. All children belong to God’s family and all of us adults are called by God to care for them.
A recent letter from our bishop to her flock brought Jesus’ words into sharp focus, as she reminded us of our calling to care for the people, especially the children, caught up in the crisis at our nation’s southern border.
Not only at our borders, but right in our communities there are children who need shelter and clothing and food and medical care and safe, loving arms around them, who need God’s wider family in order to survive, and, I hope and pray, to thrive.
I believe that we are all part of God’s family, all of us flawed and broken, forgiven and blessed. We are more like each other than we are different, sharing not only DNA but dreams for the future of our children.
Like many, I struggle with the word “family”. “Family” does not mean a perfect relationship. The tensions, misunderstandings, rifts, even cruelties inflicted by family members on each other have been going on since the beginning of human culture.
What then does it mean to be part of God’s family? It means to see our similarities more than our differences, and to see a glimpse of God in every face. It means striving for healthy relationships that honor God rather than exploiting each other with abuses of power. It means loving each other as we are loved by God, and meeting needs beyond our own self-interest.
A gathering of God’s family means an endless table, a seat for everyone, enough for all. No one having too much while someone else has too little. Everyone seeing to it that everyone is included. Everyone taking responsibility for the welfare of the children.
We, the adults of the world, of this nation, of this community, have big problems to wrestle with: environmental degradation, immigration and refugees, homelessness and poverty, disease and hunger, abuses of power, violence. The list goes on and on. Most at risk when God’s family is in an uproar are the poor, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed. And among the vulnerable, the children have the least power to help themselves.
The complexities of our perceived problems may in fact be eased by simple acts of caring and kindness: a meal, a safe bed, a visitor interested in going beyond even justice, all the way to mercy and grace. Simple acts can allow relationships to build, mutual understanding to develop, new partnerships to form to heal divisions.
It may be easier to stay distracted from what’s happening, near and far, or succumb to anger or fear, which are seldom constructive. But God calls us, whatever our faith tradition, to live as people of justice and kindness and sacrifice and love.
In my religious tradition, this is summed up in Jesus’ invitation: “Follow me.”