Encountering Christ in the Least of These – Reflection for 29 SEP 2019
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Over the past several weeks, we have explored how we encounter Christ in the Body and the Blood, as the Body of Christ, as the Word, and in prayer and contemplation. We learn the character and nature of Christ in these encounters. These are “safe” encounters within the boundaries of the church. We can maintain an illusion of control in these encounters and we can even choose to change churches or avoid church altogether if we become uncomfortable. In the poor, the prisoner, the sick, and the stranger, Christ comes uncomfortably into our communities and our daily lives. We no longer have the option to avoid an encounter, instead we must choose to deliberately ignore Christ or to encounter Him in what Saint Teresa of Calcutta called His most distressing disguise.
Too often I find myself wanting to “do something” for the poor. In truth, I find myself planning how I might do ministry to the poor. I hear others talking about “loving on” the poor or disadvantaged as if the materially poor were incapable of love. Jesus turns this paradigm on its head. Jesus promises that when we are with “the least of these,” we actually encounter Him. How can we actually encounter Christ in ministry with the poor?
We can turn again to our previous ways of encounter and see how they prepare us for this ministry. These ways of encounter are about expecting and noticing. Just as we come to the Table expecting to encounter Christ, we can approach ministry with the poor, the prisoner, the sick, and the stranger no longer expecting that we will accomplish great things for God, but instead with the expectation that we will encounter Christ with us in suffering, our own and the suffering of others. Scripture, prayer, contemplation, and community teach us to notice the presence of Christ in our midst. It is in this noticing that we are able to see the face of Christ in the least of these.
The life and ministry of Saint Teresa provides an example of how the practiced habit of noticing, the expectation of encounter, and ministry to the least come together. One of my favorite authors on contemplative practices relates the story of Teresa exercising her authority within the community to personally minister to one of the sickest patients brought to the House for the Dying. Upon his death, she remarked to the community, “I held the dying Christ in my arms today.”
How will you encounter Christ this week?