Disciple: Look for Jesus in Everyone
Do you ever get tired of people giving excuses to why something can’t be done? Don’t you wish sometimes someone—maybe you—would just make a change for good in the world? Cut through the red tape, ignore the politics and political correctness and just get things done?!
That’s probably what spurred Bob Geldof when he couldn’t stand to see people starving in Africa, especially set against the over-abundance in the West. In 1984 he somehow managed to gather the most popular of British pop stars to create an album titled Do They Know It’s Christmas. From there he started hosting a series of Live Aid concerts that raised more than $127 million for the victims of African famine and, for a short time, raised the consciousness of poverty of the West.
But like all things entertaining, it lasts as long as a news cycle or as long as it is entertaining. Not so for Bob Geldof, lead singer for his band called the “Boontown Rats.” He was the instigator and his response was personal and passionate.
Well, last year marked the 35th anniversary of Live Aid and in a recent interview Geldof says the Live Aid shows had a huge personal cost on his life, “For a while I was bewildered. I didn’t have much money at the time. It impinged entirely on my private life. It probably ended up costing me my marriage. No one was interested. Saint Bob, which I was called, wasn’t allowed to do this [pop music] anymore because it’s so petty and so meaningless. So, I was lost.”
This isn’t the first time a person has been caught up in a righteous endeavour only to lose their way. Hollywood tends to idolize these kinds of heroes—the Bob Geldof’s of the world—but we are quick to forget them too.
If you look at the Top Ten Inspirational Teacher movies, for example, invariably you will find singular heroes who sacrifice their careers, their marriages, their families, and even their health to what they think is the greater good of a cause. For the sake of the movie they look past the loved ones lost in the shadow of the heroes’ cause.
At no time is a spiritual dimension revealed, even if one existed. The heroes drain their lives away, rather than act as a conduit sourced by the One who made us for Himself.
Despite Bob Geldof’s selfless efforts and personal losses, there is still famine in Africa (and around the world). There are still wars in diverse places, natural disasters and pandemics that compound economical depressions, and a host of other impoverishments that beckon our attention. And there’s still Bob Geldof who exhausted himself in trying to do good.
In contrast, what energizes someone like the very unglamorous Mother Teresa to keep doing what she did in her life? What filled her sails with wind; what encouraged her despite the unending need before her? She set up homes for the dying; the sign outside her Calcutta home states, “Home for Dying Destitutes.”
In case you didn’t know: this is a growth industry; people are always dying but what Mother Teresa did was to create a space for dying with care, dying not alone. What energized her, on her 42nd birthday, to open the Home for Dying Destitutes in 1952, and keep on serving through out the rest of her life (1997)?
More to the point for us: what will continue to energize us as Disciples of Jesus to do His will? For, you see, I have known many who have dropped off, burned out, or faded away from a living faith and love for Jesus.
I contend that the vision that energized Mother Teresa to serve as she did—and that will continue to fill our sails with the wind of God’s Spirit as Disciples over the long haul—is found in the passage we will look at today: Matthew 25:31-46.
The Crux of the passage might be summarized in verse 40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
We’ve taught this passage many times; it has energized our work among the poor; our ministry in our communities, our welcoming our neighbours; our missions; and our sponsoring families from Syria—among the many things we have done and continue to do.
This passage contains the spiritual secret to energize disciples and it’s this: Disciples look for Jesus in everyone. My encouragement for us is to be the person of Jesus to the person of Jesus you see in the face of another person.
What I am going to do today is to simply read the passage, make very few observations, and end with Mother Teresa’s Daily Prayer as the vision we need to energize our discipleship with Jesus.
I am mindful that this is the first Sunday in Lent: a period of time of 40 days leading to Easter, a time of fasting and contemplation of our Lord Jesus, His life and ministry and sacrifice and resurrection power.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
We’ve heard a variation of this over the last few weeks. There’s no softening the reality that when Jesus returns in His glory He will separate the sheep from goats; there is a clear sense that there will be judgement. Judgement sounds harsh except for those who cry out for justice. The Judgement of Justice is actually part of our hope as Christians; justice will reign, wrongs will be righted the humble will be lifted, and the beauty of the Lord will be exposed for all His glory.
Listen: there should be no gleeful anticipation of who’s being separated out, and there should be no entitled satisfaction of thinking you know who is separated in. Peter will say in his first letter, “[…] it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
The holy, perfect, righteous judgement of the Living God calls us to a humble dedication to be disciples of Jesus that would see Jesus in the face of the person in front of you. For, you see, after Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, He will then say:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
“Come you who have been blessed of my Father […] take your inheritance”. Jesus reveals who are blessed of His Father. He reveals what I will call the normal lifestyle, the typical ethical life of a disciple.
Let me ask you, are we blessed if we do these things? Or, are we blessed to do these things?
I ask the question this way because “those who have been blessed of my Father” are happily ignorant of what they’ve done. We might describe “the blessed” as “those who bless others”. Jesus makes a connection between “those blessed of the my Father” with those who are “righteous”.
Listen to how Jesus puts it:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
The blessed of the Father, the righteous, don’t even know it! And they never even knew that as they lived out their lives they were “the blessing of the Father” to others. The amazing thing is some may be unconscious followers of Jesus: they love others as Jesus does but they would be hard pressed to know that.
Listen, Jesus is saying “these are brothers and sisters of mine and somehow to do this for these is to do this for Me.”
The spiritual secret to energize disciples is this: Disciples look for Jesus in everyone. Let us be the person of Jesus to the person of Jesus we see in the face of another person.
I’d like to stop here. It’s all good here, isn’t it? It is a clear message: go forth and look for Jesus in everyone. This will be our lifelong lesson, learning to see Jesus in the face of the person in front of us. What a different world this would be if all those who cherish being Disciples of Christ would actually do this. There would be no racism, sexism, classism, fears of the other, or prejudice against the unknown. If we actually would live like this chances are we wouldn’t have suffered what we have as a Church. Lord have mercy.
But take heart; like so much of what we’ve seen of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel we are students learning the life-long lesson of the spiritual life, to look for Jesus in everyone.
Q: How will you see Jesus in another person?
A: I guess you begin to look for Him there? You begin with some mindfulness, some intentionality to look for Jesus in the person in front of you.
I don’t always see Jesus in people. Sometimes it’s because the person I don’t see Jesus in is treating me badly, or not treating me special, as if it’s all about me. But if I’m most honest, if I’m not seeing Jesus in another person it’s probably because I’m not looking for Him in the person in front of me. I have to be mindful to do that.
I can happily remember those above average moments (can you too?), those moments when Jesus reveals Himself in the person in front of me but, day to day, day after day, if I don’t look for Him I will not see Him.
I like to remember the incident in Lima, Peru when a young woman with MS was rolled in the back of the small church where I was teaching. I had a sense to stop and tell her “I see you sister. And what is more, Jesus sees you too.” She wept those heavy heaving tears: part sorrow for the incurable suffering of MS, part joy for being seen and aware of the Lover and redeemer of her soul, the One who seeks her. We long so much to be known, to be loved, to be seen.
Now, because we have looked at this passage today, I predict that Jesus will lead us into situations this week where we will be be given opportunities to look for Him in the person He brings upon our path.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Chances are, even as we hear this passage together, the Lord is bringing to your mind people you know who are hungry and thirsty; who need to be invited in; who need to be clothed and looked after; who feel trapped and need your visit. Of course this is literal but there is a spiritual component to this as well. Who is the person God is coaxing you to spiritually feed and clothe, invite, look after, and visit?
We are living in an unprecedented time of a worldwide pandemic where now, almost a year into it, we are seeing the disturbing trends of increased family violence, suicide, and mental health deterioration. Our society is breaking down and we may well wonder, “what can I do?” What can I do in the face so much need? You can do this: the Spirit will prompt and empower you this week, so give yourself permission to go by faith and be the person of Jesus to the person of Jesus you see in the face of another person.
But as I said earlier, this secret is embedded in judgement:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
How do we handle the goodness of the Good News of Jesus Christ with the bad news of judgement? I contend that the goodness of the Good News is good because there is a reality of Justice. Well, we don’t separate the sheep from the goats. What are we to do? We are to look for Jesus in everyone. We are to be the person of Jesus to the person of Jesus you see in the face of another person.
A year before he died, Jesuit Theologian Leon Dufour confided in the person who was caring for him, “[…] I think, in the end, God is the person you are talking to, the one right in front of you”.
C.S. Lewis says as much in his famous essay, “This Weight of Glory”: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal […] your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
I started today talking about Bob Geldof finally cutting through the excuses and doing something to address poverty (for more click here). Unfortunately there is still famine in Africa (and around the world). There are still wars in diverse places, natural disasters, pandemics, economical depressions, and a host of other impoverishments that beckon our attention.
Eventually Geldof lost his wife and family, lost his way, and lost his energy to keep the movement going. He started with a heartfelt response to a real need; like many of us, we can start off well but we don’t always end the way we intended to go.
So I asked, “What energized Mother Teresa to keep doing what she did in her life? What filled her sails with wind; what encouraged her despite the unending need before her?”
More to the point what will continue to energize us as Disciples of Jesus to do His will? Because, as I said, I have known many who have dropped off, burned out, or faded away from a living faith and love for Jesus.
I contend that the vision that energized Mother Teresa to serve as she did is the vision that will continue to fill our sails with the wind of God’s Spirit as Disciples over the long arc of our short lives: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Mother Teresa’s ministry might have been built entirely on this understanding, as the first words of her daily prayer indicate: Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick […].
I’d like to pray what is known as Mother Teresa’s daily prayer; that we might contemplate it, that we might pray it as a way of living out this passage:
Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I recognize you, and say:
‘Jesus my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.’
Lord, give me this seeing faith, then my work will never be monotonous. I will ever find joy in humouring the fancies and gratifying the wishes of all poor sufferers.
O beloved sick, how doubly dear you are to me, when you personify Christ; and what a privilege is mine to be allowed to tend you.
Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience.
And O God, while you are Jesus, my patient, deign also to be to me a patient Jesus, bearing with my faults looking only to my intention, which is to love and serve you in the person of each of your sick. Lord increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore. Amen.
Let this prayer be yours everyday this week as we enter Lent to focus on our Lord Jesus.
- What has kept you going or growing in your spiritual journey?
If you feel as if you’ve lost your way or stalled along the way this would be a good time to share this with friends you trust to bring you along to be with Jesus.
- What will continue to energize you as Disciples of Jesus?
- What is your response to Mother Teresa’s Daily Prayer. What does it make you want to think, feel, do?