Some of my very best friends still live in or near the town where I went to college, and I make it a point to visit a couple times a year. A few weeks ago, I drove down for my standard summer visit. I got there around lunchtime, so I decided to stop for a quick bite to eat before heading to my friend’s house.
I chose a seat in the corner of the restaurant while I waited on my order to arrive. I was engrossed in my Twitter feed and completely unaware of my surroundings, but at some point, something caught my attention. I looked up and saw a man I’d completely forgotten about in the seven years that had passed since I moved away. His name was Bert.
When I was in college, I worked part time at a retail store. Working retail comes with its own little quirks, and my experience was no different. Bert, an older local man with a mental disability, visited our store every day—rain or shine.
Bert loved books, and every day he walked the streets of our town, stopping in store after store to show off that day’s stack of books to his “friends.” Most of the time, my coworkers and I would try to stop what we were doing to gush over his books and engage in a little small talk. Other times when we were super busy, we’d have to brush him off. Regardless of our actions and without fail, he’d still come visit every day.
To many of my coworkers, he was a nuisance and just plain annoying. To me, he was just part of the every day norm—something I just accepted as normal without giving much thought to his circumstances. Seven years and two moves later, Bert was far from my mind—until he crossed my path again at lunch this summer.
When I looked up from my phone and saw Bert, I noticed he wasn’t alone. He was sitting down with two other men, “manly men” wearing clothing that suggested they worked long hours outdoors. They were eating sandwiches, and Bert was sipping on a large drink. This group of unlikely companions was sitting pretty close to me, so it was easy to hear bits and pieces of their conversation.
One of the men was making small talk about the summer heat. He said to Bert, “I looked up and saw you walking by and I just wanted to make sure you had something cool to drink. I didn’t want you to overheat.” Bert thanked him for his drink, and they continued making small talk. A little later on, I heard the other man say, “Now Bert, are you sure I can’t buy you a sandwich?” Bert turned him down, saying he had eaten a little earlier in the day.
As I sat there taking it all in, I couldn’t help but think about how I was a seeing a literal representation of the body of Christ being His hands and feet. I didn’t know the first thing about those two men, where they stood spiritually or how they were connected to Bert, but I knew they were doing what Christ commanded us to do for the least of these.
My steps were a little lighter when I left the restaurant that day. Even though my hope for mankind was renewed, there were tears in my eyes as my heart turned toward repentance. Seeing those two men interact with Bert made me realized how many times I overlook the simple needs of those around me.
In Matthew 25, God commands us to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, to invite strangers into our homes, to clothe those who need to be clothed, to look after the sick, and to visit those in prison. Far too often I’m so caught up in my own life that I don’t look for opportunities to meet the needs of others.
I often think about how Jesus met people’s practical needs before meeting their spiritual needs. People all around us are silently crying out for help, and we have a great opportunity before us to meet their practical needs. Sometimes they’re believers, but many times they may not know our Jesus. By being tangible extensions of God’s unfailing love, we’re setting the stage for the opportunity to share His grace and mercy. All it takes is for us to look up from our own lives long enough to see the needs around us and respond accordingly.
Sometimes it might mean spending your Friday night babysitting for a single mom so she can have some time by herself or with friends.
It could mean opening your home and heart to a friend when they’re having a rough time emotionally.
It could be sharing your lunch with a coworker who mentioned he forgot his at home today.
It could mean offering to wash a friend’s car one Saturday.
Or, as with Bert, it could mean buying a cool drink for someone you see walking through town on a hot summer day.
Whatever the need may be, meet it if you’re able. Look up from yourself and your own life long enough to see people and their situations as Jesus sees them—-opportunities to lavish the love of the Father on them with no questions asked and no desire for repayment.
Whatever we do for the least of these, we’ve do for the Father.