by Tyler Arnold
Almost two decades ago “Jane” and her husband immigrated to the United States from Micronesia. While in the U.S., they had five children, frequently moved to find employment and eventually fell on hard times. Their marriage fell apart, and Jane and the kids found themselves homeless and alone.
Although Jane had found a job at a nursing and rehabilitation facility, her salary was not enough to support the needs of her family. A friend at work told her about Hillcrest Transitional Housing, a 90-day program that offers homeless families a place to live as well as disciplined financial counseling. The primary objective of this program is to move clients from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Jane applied for an apartment and was accepted into the program.
Churches in the community sponsor and maintain Hillcrest apartments. The families in the program are cared for by these same sponsor churches. Our parish-family, Christ Lutheran in Platte Woods, Missouri, is blessed to have Jane and her children in our apartment. This has given the members of our church the opportunity to carry out their Christian vocation of serving our neighbor by helping this struggling family. Most of all, the people at Christ Lutheran have had the pleasure of befriending a family that truly appreciates how God’s people serve out of love for their fellow neighbor.
It is difficult to quantify the gratitude Jane and her children have shown. When they first entered their new residence, the kids, ages 9 to 15, began to cry simply because the appliances were working. Before coming to Hillcrest, Jane and her kids were living in a condemned apartment building with no electricity. Today, their basic needs are met and the family has been given what they need: a second chance.
Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited, me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36). At times the needy are easy to recognize as they stand on the street corner begging for handouts. Other times, they are more difficult to spot. They blend in with the crowd. They aren’t advertising homelessness or hunger by their dress or demeanor. They may look the same as any of us.
Pay attention to our Savior’s words in Matthew 25, where Christ’s sheep ask, “When did we see you hungry … thirsty … a stranger … naked … sick … in prison?” Jesus reminds us that when we serve our neighbor, we are serving Him. Even more, Jesus directs Christians to see God in those we serve. In other words, the Christian vocation of service is meant to benefit our neighbor — to meet the needs of another human being, no matter what the person may look like or who he happens to be — yet it is ultimately service to God. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). So when we look into the eyes of the hungry child begging for food, Jesus tells us to see Him in those eyes. When our neighbor suffers the effects of mental or physical illness, Jesus says that He is that sick neighbor. When unbearable despair overwhelms a family in the community, we should see our Savior in their faces.
Jesus does not need our service for Himself. No, rather, our neighbor needs our service. Therefore, Jesus loves and requires your service because your neighbor is always in need. Your neighbor needs Christians to respond to their griefs and misfortunes in a Christ-like way. How do we know this? Because we Christians are also in need of the service of God. And that is exactly what we have: God’s ultimate service. Jesus died on the cross to grant us eternal life in heaven. This is the best kind of service our God could ever do for you. And that is exactly what He has done.
Jesus is served when Jane and her family receives food, clothes and an apartment. Those temporal things are, of course, nothing compared to the mansions that await us in heaven. Yet they are, like all of God’s gifts, a small foretaste of what He has in store for His people — a sneak peek at paradise both for those who share His love and for those who, like Jane, receive it gladly.
The Rev. Tyler Arnold is senior pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Platte Woods, MO. He is also a Collegium Fellow for DOXOLOGY — the Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel.