The Least Of Us
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of you, you did for me.’ ~ Matthew 25:40
Friends, I am troubled. I am troubled by many things. There is too much hatred in the world and not enough love. Too much “Us vs. Them” mentality. Not enough “We.” Too much disdain, denigration and demonization. Not enough true compassion, sympathy and giving. And I am troubled.
Since childhood, I have believed we find our greatest fulfillment in the our service to others. I believe that it is by working together that achieve great things, and that the concept of the “common wealth” which was central to philosophy upon which this country was founded, is vital to our society. I have written often about servant-leadership and its benefits to all business stakeholders – owners, executives, managers, white and blue collar workers, families, customers, suppliers, even the towns in which those companies operate. I have done my best to live my life in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, and the lessons of my father. Time and again I have experienced the truth of fulfillment through service, the warm glow of happiness that comes from knowing you did a good thing. For a minute, at least, you got it right.
My father is the one who introduced me to the quote with which I started this post. Many of you already know I call him an Everyday Hero, and a Walking Christian. You also know he continues to be one of my most important teachers, on many levels. And this quote is central to one of his earliest and oft-repeated lessons: Help Others.
Just that. Help others. And by that, he meant everyone who needed it. A stranger needs a ride home after dropping his car off at a gas station? “No problem. Let’s go.” A woman’s car has broken down on the side of the road, during rush hour, in the rain? “Lock your doors and wait here; I’ll get a tow truck.” Overwhelmed by a hundred rude customers on Christmas Eve? “Thank you SO much for being here tonight so I could get these last-minute gifts! Take a minute to catch your breath. You deserve it!”
Thousands of acts of kindness, compassion and assistance, along with our heart-to-heart talks, comprised my education in how to be a good person, a person of good character, and a Gentle Man. Little things, like holding a door for someone. Big things like helping dozens of others learn to deal with cancer using the tips and tricks he’d learned for himself. Every time we went out in public together, I saw him treat everyone else, regardless of age, color, looks, dress, or apparent financial station, with kindness. It was an almost never-ending stream of compassion. Every once in a while, we’d have a conversation afterwards. Not often, but sometimes.
It was during one of these quiet talks (they were almost always quiet unless I was in trouble) that Dad first introduced this quote to me. One day, as we exited a store – I don’t remember which one – a man approached us and asked for spare change. Of course, you already have an image in your mind, but let me clarify. His clothes were filthy and so was he, with an odor that was half body sweat and half dumpster. Dirty, tangled hair leaping this way and that. Scruffy beard obscuring the bottom half of his lined, old face, framing cracked lips and a few green teeth. Haunted eyes, glazed, downtrodden, humiliated. Most people would have fallen into two camps: those who gave him some change, and those who didn’t and just kept walking. There were a few of the former, a lot of the latter. Dad did neither.
Instead, Dad answered the man’s question with one of his own. “Have you eaten today?”
“No, sir, I haven’t,” the man replied. “I don’t have enough money.”
“Wait right here. Don’t leave. I’ll be back.”
With that, Dad and I walked to the car and put our groceries away. I followed him back to the sidewalk and the old man. “Come with me,” my Dad said simply, and walked a few doors down the block to a sandwich shop. He opened the door, looked at the man and said, “After you.”
We had barely gotten in the door when one of the people behind the counter, probably the manager, called out to Dad’s new friend in a derisive tone. “You gotta leave. Get back on the street where you belong.”
Mumbling an apology, the man turned to leave. Before he could, Dad put a soft hand on his arm and said, “No. stay here with my son,” and walked to the counter. “Do you know this man?” he asked.
“No, he’s just some bum.”
“He’s not a bum!” Dad’s voice was forceful, but not loud. Passionate. “He’s a man, and he’s hungry and I’m going to buy him lunch.”
When the sandwich maker relented, Dad thanked him sincerely, and he ordered a trio of sandwiches and drinks. In a gesture of compromise, Dad led us outside to eat. In a gesture of thanks, he added a large tip to the bill. Dad sat between the two of us and handed out the sandwiches and cokes. He made small talk with the man, learning a little about his background, how he came to be on the street. By the time we left, Dad had told him about a shelter a few blocks away, and had given him some money for another meal later. I remember Dad specifically asked him to not spend it on alcohol. The man said he’d try.
That’s what sparked the conversation. As we drove away, I asked Dad if he thought the man would really buy dinner. “Probably not,” Dad said.”
“Then why did you give it to him?” I wanted to know.
“Because I’m hopeful. And because it was the right thing to do.”
Dad went on to explain that, sometimes, a person will hit rock bottom. The place past which you cannot dig. He said that we shouldn’t judge someone, even if part of the fault is theirs. “Everyone makes mistakes,” he said. “And everyone deserves the chance to do better. Sometimes, they need our help to be able to do that, to come to a place where they believe they can do it.”
He went on to talk about serving those in the greatest need. This man was in great need, but there were others, he said. “The poor, the sick, the homeless, the vilified” he went on, “those are the least among us, the ones we’re told to help.”
I absorbed this as we sat in silence for a bit. “The least among us…” I murmured.
Dad replied, ” ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of you, you did for me.’ That’s what Jesus said; that’s what we’re supposed to do: help the least among us, son.”
“There but for the grace of God go I,” he continued, explaining that you never know when it might be you at or near the bottom. You might need a hand up, so you can turn your life around.
“We have to be their voice for them, when they have no voice of their own. And we are commanded to help them.”
The least among us. Those who are in the greatest need. Their numbers are growing; many of the new poor are children and elders, families living on low pay and not much chance to do better. These are the people I want to help. Again.
I hope you will join me.
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