Jesus tells a story of a king who says, “When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty you gave me something to drink.” The king continues, “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me. When I was naked, you gave me clothing.” And the king goes on to say, “When I was sick, you cared for me. And when I was in prison, you visited me.”
But when did you or I ever see a king who was suffering from hunger? When did we see a king who had no water? When did we ever see a king or a queen who had no clothing to wear? When did we ever see a king or a queen who was a stranger in the land? And when did we visit one in prison? When did we ever actually see a king or a queen in such need, let alone ever be able to do something about it?
And the king answers, “When you did these things to the least of those of my family, you did them to me. It was the same thing as doing it to me,” the king said, as would have also a queen. “When you did it unto the least of my family, it was the same as doing it to me.”
So, in the story, just who are those who are the least – since it’s the king who says that, when we cared for the least, we were actually caring for the king?
That sounds as if it’s a paradox. How can a king be the least? It’s an enigma. Actually, the story is a parable and a parable is a story that calls you to dig deeper. It’s a puzzle but it’s more than a game.
Maybe, you have some idea about this already. Maybe you have seen it already… maybe you’ve seen it in the eyes of a child whose family is afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Maybe you’ve seen it in the media flashes of pictures of those suffering from famine in Ethiopia or those without the basics of life in other parts of Africa and around the globe.
Or, you might have seen it in the Primate World Relief and Development Fund's communications about people in India and elsewhere in the world where, as it says in the story, the members of the family of the king reside.
You might have thought about this when you gazed into the faces of street people in big cities or even closer to home… around our own downtown streets.
So, those are among the faces of the least … close to home and some far away – the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the lonely, those imprisoned by unjust cause, those who are ill with disease... people far away, people closer to home… people just down the street.
In the story, the king says that when he was hungry, you fed him. He says that, when he was thirsty, you gave him something to drink. When he was alone, you visited. When he was ill, you cared for him.
And the people, in the story, ask the king, “But when did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When were you without clothes that we clothed you? When were you alone and we welcomed you. When did we ever do those things?” the people would ask.
And the king answers, “When you did these things to the least of those of my family, you did them to me. It was the same thing as doing the same to me,” the king said, as would have also a queen.
So, if you dig deeper into the story, if you enter deeply into the puzzle, you’ll see that in some ways the king is the same as the least. It seems that way to me... that, in the story, the king is the same as the least.
There’s the paradox. There’s the puzzle, the enigma… which is what a parable is … a story that beckons you to dig deeper… beyond the trappings of kings and queens, power and authority, as well as, beyond the lowliness of the least.
It turns the world, as we know it, upside down. It turns the world upside down…
And a new quality of taking responsibility comes into focus as one who is enabled to see and recognize, and identify the dignity, worth and value of any person at a level beyond that of what fortune may have bestowed on one person and beyond what tragedy may have wrought upon another.
In a lot of ways, it seems to me, each of us has parts of ourselves that make us like a king or like a queen. But, at the same time, we each have aspects of ourselves that make us the least. I think that is how the two edges of the paradox come together with the insight that, in spite of strength or weakness, in the heart, at the depths of each and every human soul, there is a certain nobility – the nobility of having inherent worth, dignity, and value.
That’s the kind of light and insight that can empower a person to make a difference through ones understanding, in reaching out to others according to ones own means and abilities … to do ones part… to do ones part as a community of faith… and maybe… maybe… even to dare to turn the world upside down… if only a little bit at a time.
The Rev'd W Glenn Empey