There is something interesting about the 25th chapter of Matthew in the New Testament:
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Herein we learn of the link between serving others and pleasing God. They are intrinsically linked. While the inquiring righteous wondered aloud about a connection they had yet to make, we see their purity of intention. They helped others, simply because others needed help. They served with no thought of reward.
But the chapter doesn’t end there. Conversely, the wicked get the same, but oh-so-different rundown in the following verses.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
I won’t pretend to be a scripture scholar of any degree, but it does seem like spelling out each facet out in detail, mirroring the good deeds mentioned with their negating inverse, that this is a point that is getting extra emphasis.
In other words, the Lord is making his point pretty clear about what his followers should do, and how they ought to regard the needy. It seems to me of all the things we ought to do, remember, cherish and regard, the way in which we attend to the least of these must surely rank at the top.
I think that’s why I have really resonated with this whole Light The World campaign, in large measure due to the emphasis on temporal service as spiritual ministry.
Today’s theme per the Light The World calendar, is a part of verse 36 in the above-mentioned chapter: “I was naked and ye clothed me.”
Unlike other scriptures that may have myriad interpretations and layered meanings, this one is as straightforward as it gets. When it comes to being a righteous disciple of Christ, clothing the naked is one of the attendant duties. It’s just part of the gig.
Here’s a story about when I didn’t do that.
I was on an internship in Ethiopia, there to engage in the noble work of international development, which as is often the case, is trusted to recent college grads with less-than-impressive skills and more than a little privilege. I didn’t know what to do most of the time, or how to do it. More than that, this was my first exposure to the realities of extreme poverty, which was at times overwhelming.
One day, under a bright sun, in a busy part of town, I saw off in the distance a young girl alone. She couldn’t have been more than three or four years old, as she squatted on a railroad track, playing with sticks. Other than a small, tattered shirt, she was naked. And the remains of whatever gastrointestinal malady she suffered from were still making their way onto the rusted metal beam of the railroad, unacknowledged by her or her naked body, evidence of she being tragically accustomed to tolerating the infliction as she continued to play with her sticks.
This is an ugly story. I didn’t help that girl. I didn’t know how or even where to start. I don’t even remember how that moment ended. She, along with countless others, disappeared into the dark tapestry of missed opportunities amid an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.
When saw we thee naked, and clothed thee?
The fact is, we don’t always help. Not in every instance. Even if we could, or would in a more ideal situation, we don’t always act. But accepting the fact that I don’t always get it right can’t keep me from continuing to try. What it can do, however, is motivate and inspire us to be braver. Sometimes service is an act of courage. Sometimes it’s hard or uncomfortable or potentially awkward to respond to one’s needs, especially when it’s face to face or one on one.
When it comes to clothing the naked, it’s more than just a proverbial Bible verse. Clothes are dignity, security, warmth. They signal we are civilized beings in civilized society, and ready to interact with the world. Covering our nakedness, while it can be taken to extreme measures of cost and high fashion, is in essence a basic human need, and therefore an essential human right.
What we can do today.
Look to your community organizations, your local relief and charitable organizations, keep an ear out for radio ads and an eye out for telephone poles and A-frame poster boards bearing signs of clothing drives, then participate.
Get rid of your lightly worn clothes, new clothes that don’t fit (yet or anymore), warm scarves and gloves you haven’t worn in years, and donate them to your local underserved school, a thrift store, or a shelter.
Especially now, especially this season, being part of the solution to keep others warm, secure and dignified is rife with possibilities for immediate gratification. Unlike other forms of service, taking the scarf from around your neck and wrapping it around the chilled shoulders of someone in need is probably the quickest way to light the world with the love of Christ through selfless giving.
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”