I don’t listen to Christian radio often, but when I do there’s a particular song that always seems to come on. And while I am trying (half-heartedly, some days) to not just be fault-finding and nit-picky about Christianity and church culture in America, there is this one line that always ruffles my feathers.
“People pass, and even if they don’t know my name
Is there evidence that I’ve been changed?
When they see me, do they see You?”
I’m fine with seeing ourselves as being about Christ’s work, as being his hands and feet. It’s amazing we get to bear the image of God. And while we were made in his likeness, and get to be called his sons and daughters, I’m not Jesus. I grew up hearing that I might be the only Bible someone reads today. I get the sentiment behind it, but it’s wrong. I’m not the only Bible someone might read today. I’m not the eternal word folks, and neither is the person who wrote that.
Instead of asking “When they see me, do they see you?” I think a more important question to ask is, “When I see them, do I see Christ?”
Faith should change how we see other people, not how they see us necessarily. It’s flipping it around, getting our starting point backwards, and making it about us as we are always so quick to do.
How much differently might our way in the world be if I became less preoccupied with my own way in the world, and instead other people’s lives? How differently might we view the world if we truly did see Christ’s face in the face of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned, the afflicted? What might it do to us if in the face of the person asking for money, in the person being deported, in the people who are slammed on the ground and drug away in handcuffs, we truly did see the face of Christ?
If I was looking for the face of Christ in the hungry, it might make me a lot more willing and eager to cross paths with those who are hungry. It could alter, even, where I worship, where I live, who I befriend, and whose interests I look out for.
Instead of seeing myself as a savior, bearing light, it might have me seeking out the widow, oppressed, and imprisoned, to find the light I need for my own salvation. It certainly would knock me down off my pedestal, and into places I never thought I’d go.
Personal relationship with God is tied to our relationship with our neighbors. Jesus makes it so in Matthew 25 when he talks about the final judgement and how the sheep will be separated from the goats. Those who inherit the kingdom are the ones who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoners.
Mother Theresa said “It may be fashionable to talk about the poor but still not fashionable to talk to them.”
If we call ourselves followers of Christ, then we better find ourselves following him–into prisons, detention centers, soup kitchens, rough neighborhoods, parched deserts, and welcoming people to places where they are currently unwelcome. Shouldn’t we go looking for Jesus in the places he said he would be found?
It would be so much easier if the parable separated the sheep and the goats by those who asked Jesus in their heart and those who didn’t. It is a faith that asks much less of us, because it is a faith that doesn’t force us to look for Jesus in the places we don’t want to look.
If I see Christ’s face in the face of those he says I will, it means I should approach people with a higher sense of dignity, with humility, and a desire to learn. It might also lead me to look deeper into people’s circumstances or situations. If it is Christ I am encountering I should probably be a lot more willing to listen than I am to give answers, to empathize instead of ostracize, to try and understand societal factors instead of just place individual blame, to ask questions instead of thinking I already know the answers. I’d probably more willing to mourn and grieve with those who mourn and grieve, than to offer easy answers or platitudes that sound nice, but offer little in the way of meaningful connection or change.
Is this what those separated on the left offered since it wasn’t food, drink, shelter, or welcome that they offered? Did they offer good intentions to the sick and suffering instead of tangible help?
I don’t know, it doesn’t say. But I know that I am haunted by the words at the end of Matthew 25, the people on the left asking “Lord when did we see you hungry? When were you thirsty and we denied you drink?
When were you hungry and we didn’t feed you? When were you thirsty and we denied you drink?
200,000 Salvadorans in America have lost protections in their status and now will likely have to return to El Salvador or face deportation. The US funded the civil war that destabilized their country, trained death squads and supported the repressive government there. Their violent gangs were born on the streets of L.A. We are now sending people back to the violent chaos we helped create. @jesschillin posted on Twitter about this ruling, “I am losing my TPS status. I don’t even know how to process this. How do I get through today? I am panting, gasping for air…”
People are being deported to their deaths, and some border guards are telling people America is no longer allowing people in who are seeking asylum, which is completely untrue, unconstitutional, and a giant human rights violation.
A family arrived at the border to seek asylum and were separated from their one year old son, not knowing for days where they had taken him. Can you imagine that fear, that anxiety? How inhuman it is to separate a baby from their parents?
When were you a stranger and we didn’t welcome you? When were you sick and imprisoned and we didn’t visit you?
As Steve Mattson writes in an article, “A Modern Day Parable for the Church:”
Jesus continued, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
We love our neighbors, responded the church.
But Jesus said, if you would be perfect, go, and love your Muslim neighbor, your immigrant neighbor, your refugee neighbor, your atheist neighbor, your LGBTQ neighbor, your homeless neighbor, your poor neighbor … stop building walls, and stop banning and deporting people with the intent of preventing them from becoming your neighbor in the first place.
If I actually saw Jesus in the faces of others in the way Christ tells me to, I’d be pretty angry about giant tax cuts for the rich when the water in Flint, MI is still undrinkable, people in Puerto Rico are still without power and dying because of it. I’d be livid about a two-tier bail system that preys on the poor and imprisons people simply because they cannot afford to pay bail, people having to have GoFundMe campaigns to afford insulin and yet still die because drug companies are gouging prices, and the way people in America cannot stomach the sight of homeless people, yet are unwilling to enact policies to help them.
When did we see you without clean water and did nothing? When did we see you dying because you could not afford your medicine? When did we imprison you for being poor? When did we ostracize, blame, or ignore you instead of help you for being homeless?
When we seem them do we see You?