Years ago I asked an experienced and accomplished Navigator missionary to give a summary of what he had learned after a notable career. I don’t know what I was expecting, perhaps a winning strategy or a spiritual “trick” or something, but his answer surprised me.
“We should measure our success by how we treat ‘the least of these.'” *
‘Not how we recruit the “best and brightest”, although we’ll take some of those if they have the right spirit, but how we treat those who get picked last, who have a hard time keeping up. ‘Nothing wrong with having goals and objectives but do I have any time for those who aren’t furthering my agendas? Struggling people (acknowledging we all struggle) are inconvenient and costly and draining. And Jesus loves them too.
Right now the economy is booming. Unemployment is down, though we hear conflicting reports about real wages. If you own stocks you’re pretty happy. By these financial measurements, it appears America is “winning”. If money is how we grade life, the report card looks good. The bigger question is if this is the right measurement. There seems to be little concern here for those without a stock portfolio or who aren’t contributing to the growth of the overall financial picture. How does this deal with the “least of these” or, in the admonition of Isaiah 1:17, learning to do good, to seek justice for those who need it, to rescue the oppressed even if they aren’t “my people”, to defend somebody else’s widow, and (not “or”) to care for the needy children who fall into my path … even if it costs me?
I was reading 1 Timothy 6 this morning and in the midst of a passage of warnings about misplaced values (craving wealth being one of the more dangerous ones) Paul gives his own philosophy for how to measure life.
“Of course there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, (or shelter), we will be content with those.” **
Food and clothing and shelter are essential for life. If we don’t have them it isn’t greedy to want them. It isn’t unspiritual to work toward them. The poor and destitute aren’t lesser for that. For the rest of us, Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul, explain that what we need is “enough”, and that is enough. The greatest measurement of our life, indeed of ourselves, is back to the words of Jesus,
“Just as you did it to one of the least of these …, you did it to me.”
How are you doing?
* See Matthew 25:38-40
** 1 Timothy 6:6-8