by Rev. Doug Gray
One of the things are really enjoy is seeing the look on someone’s face when they are truly surprised. I went looking for some on the internet. One thing I love about surprise are the looks on people’s faces. The shock you see in someone who is truly surprised is hilarious. [Show the photos in the slideshow.] And I know not all of those people were truly surprised, right? It’s hard to capture that look, because it happens so fast. But true surprise—it’s priceless! That’s why people throw surprise parties and warn people not to spoil the surprise. In today’s passage, we find Jesus telling the story of two surprises, two surprises that will help us understand more deeply the call to care.
The first surprise is that meeting Jesus is way easier than we think. One day, a highway patrol woman pulled over a car for speeding. As the officer was writing the ticket, she noticed several machetes in the car. “What are those for?” she asked suspiciously. “I'm a juggler,” the man replied. “I use those in my act.” “Well, show me,” the officer demanded. The juggler took out the machetes and started juggling them; first three, then more until he was tossing seven at one time, overhand, underhand, behind the back, putting on a dazzling show in the breakdown lane of the highway and amazing the officer. Just then, another car passed by. The driver did a double take, and said, “My God. I've got to give up drinking! Look at the test they're giving now.” The thing I find interesting is that for the guy who is good at it, it’s no big deal to juggle the machetes by the side of the road. The officer and the other driver think it’s amazing, but for the person juggling—meh, no big deal. Lots of people think meeting Jesus is really hard—like juggling machetes—but when we care for “the least of these my sisters and brothers,” we meet Jesus.
The second surprise is that God cares about “the least of these” and calls them brothers and sisters. But haven’t you been “the least of these” in your life? How many of us remember being left out on the playground? Or how many of us have had a time when we were in big trouble? Or how many of us have been bullied by someone who was bigger, or in a position of authority? We have all been hungry and thirsty. We have all needed clothes and been sick. Even if we have not been in a literal jail, many of us have been captive to addictions and patterns of behavior that hold us captive. My point is that we have all had times when we were “the least of these” and God cared about us. Perhaps someone helped us when we were up a creek. Perhaps someone brought us food or took care of us when we were sick. However it worked, we have been on the receiving end of grace—and God cares and calls us to see the same humanity and need in others…and to let it move us.
The final surprise is a doozy: when we care, something in the world changes. In the 1950s, a group of scientists was studying the Japanese monkey on the island of Koshima. “Scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkeys liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant. An 18-month-old female…found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.” For several years, one by one, family by family, the monkeys learned how to do this new thing, though a few never gave up eating sandy sweet potatoes. And then one day—and it seemed to happen overnight—it just became the way things were done. It seems that the community came to a tipping point, and one more monkey learning how to live like that, and suddenly, everyone was doing it—and not just on this island, but on all the neighboring islands as well. When one of us shows kindness and compassion, it changes the people around us. It changes the atmosphere and energy in a way that is contagious, even if people can’t explain why.
When the best surprises come to us, what is the look on our faces? What do we feel in our hearts? What do we say, “Are you kidding me? Is this for real?” We know how the world works, and suddenly we are faced with someone whose caring is beyond what the world would do. Have you had a moment like that? Perhaps we don’t even know whether to laugh or cry. That’s grace! That’s how Jesus loves us. That’s how God provides for us. That’s how the Spirit leads us. It’s a world created for us and it’s good! It’s a baby born in a manger. It’s the Son of God, hanging on a cross. It’s a couple of handfuls of people creating community out of loving inspiration on Pentecost. And through the years, sometimes the church has gotten it devastatingly wrong—and we can still get it wrong today—but those have all been times when the church has focused on power at the expense of love. The power of the cross is that Jesus gave up power for love. Shocking. The biggest surprise of all. The church at its best creates surprises of caring and compassion. And it all begins with thinking about “the least of these, Jesus’ sisters and brothers.” Who are the “least of these” around us? Who are the people who have the least say in how things go? Who are the people who are most left out? Who are the ones most in need of kindness? Let us go to them, the least of these, listen to them, and find Jesus. Let us serve them, the least of these, and learn from God how to love. Let us surrender our wills to show God’s love, and change the world. And watch for God’s surprises to come!
Ken Keyes, Jr, The Hundredth Monkey, 1984.