Have you ever been the receiver of someone’s kindness, either a word spoken, a good deed, a helping hand or simply a smile? This Lent we heard Jesus in Matthew 25 tell us, “I was hungry and you fed me…I was naked and you clothed me…so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine you did it to me.” Naturally, we think of those times and situations where we, each of us, have come to the aid of our Blessed Saviour present in another or missed the chance to do so. Have you ever thought of a time when you have been one of the “least” and someone has cared for you and in so doing has touched Jesus?
Many times I’ve had experiences of kindness shown to me where our Lord seemed to say it was he, in me, who has been loved. The person probably had no idea that loving kindness was being shown to Christ. I imagined this person facing Jesus at the Last Judgement saying, “Lord, when did I see you in need?” The King follows by pointing out the act of love shown to me.
A recent example happened in a grocery store parking lot. I always park at the extreme back of the lot for the long walk to the store. After shopping and placing my groceries in the car, I had a cart to return, saw one left nearby unreturned, picked it up on my way, and proceeded to return both. As I wheeled the carts a young man noticed me picking up the second cart as he placed his groceries in his car. He closed the trunk and headed toward me, saying with a smile, “I’ll take those for you; my car’s closer, and besides I need the exercise. We had a bit of a fun chat when I replied with, “Thank you, but you’re a lot younger than I. Isn’t it me who needs the exercise? To which he returned with a chuckle, “Well, if you find you’re not in shape, you can blame it on me.” We both had a laugh as I thanked him and passed the carts over to him.
Immediately I was struck by what just occurred. A stranger came by and offered a helping hand to one of the “least of these brothers of mine”. Jesus was hidden in the disguise of Rod Minns. This young man helped Jesus in helping me. I felt our Lord’s Presence and a noticeable peace and joy.
This kind soul remains a stranger I’ll always remember, who I prayed for at that moment and continue to pray for. He saw a need and responded. I wondered if our Lord stirred his awareness.
What’s remarkable about the encounter is for some reason he and I kept showing up together at different aisles in the store. He stood out, not because he had an unusual look or behaviour. He was just noticeable. I did pay attention to how he had his list on his phone, checking it as I do. But that’s getting more common now.
As I drove away it became blue-sky clear that God was very involved in these events. I knew why this young man stood out. Jesus, who as St Paul says “can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine,” was shaping something more than I could see or even imagine as both he and I did our shopping.
These encounters and events often happen to me and are no longer surprising. Nor should they be for those who believe and entrust their lives the One who was sent to save us. What remains a mystery, though, is how he does it, when and with whom. It is not by clever, meticulous planning by his creatures that they happen. Throughout the history of Israel God tells his people at the most powerful moments of his intervention, “…so that you know that it was I who did it.” Ezekiel 36: 38: “…thus they shall know that I am the Lord.”
This young man may be a man of prayer as well, only God knows that. What I thought of is how he perhaps will only know that he did it for Christ when he says to Him at the final hour, “Lord when did I see you with two shopping carts, grey-haired and tired with a long walk ahead of you, and lifted your burden?” I wasn’t feeling particularly burdened, but Jesus just wanted to
help and be helped. I just saw an unreturned cart and wanted to save the cart-getter from coming out to the back of the lot.
Mother Teresa, now St Teresa of Calcutta, has been the Icon of Jesus’s words in Matthew 25. She spoke of caring for Jesus in the “distressing disguise” of the poorest of the poor as she served those who suffered so greatly in the Calcutta streets where she began to serve Him in 1948, having responded to His persistent call to leave Loreto and enter Calcutta alone and completely dependent on Him.
She extended Christ’s “you did it to me” :
“When Christ said: I was hungry and you fed me, he didn’t mean only the hunger for bread and for food; he also meant the hunger to be loved.”
She knew Christ was present in every need, everywhere, especially in the circumstances of each person’s life.
“Because we cannot see Christ we cannot express our love to him; but our neighbours we can see, and we can do to them what, if we saw him we would like to do to Christ.”
I wrote to her in 1980, a few months after my marriage asking if we could go to Calcutta to serve at Kalighat, the home for the dying. In her return letter, she told us not to come to Calcutta. Instead, she told us to
“… make your home another Nazareth where Jesus can come and rest awhile.”
She identified every human need as Christ’s own need.
That young man in the parking lot saw a need and unknowingly or maybe knowingly saw Jesus in me and responded. Christ’s presence was so tangible in this encounter that joy and peace entered a very ordinary event making it beautiful.
We helped in a small way to do something beautiful for God, as Mother once said which became the title of the first book about her by Malcolm Muggeridge in 1971.