Matthew 25:40 - And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
In this series, those working within health care were asked to consider the words of Matthew 25:40 and then answer: Who are the least of these? How do they impact your ministry?
It is somewhat intimidating, as a layperson, to try to offer ‘wisdom’ on these questions when there are many who have spent their lives studying these issues. But in reflecting back on my journey, I feel that my life has been enriched in so many unanticipated ways by so many people that perhaps there are helpful, though I am sure not unique, lessons woven in the journey. At first blush, it would seem that we are commanded in Matthew to address injustice wherever it exists, to care for those who are oppressed, impoverished, hungry, homeless, prisoners, prostitutes, gay and lesbian, transgender, etc. – all who live on the margin. But as I have grown older, I have found it more and more difficult to determine where the margin is.
Professionally, I have been privileged as a physician, a neonatologist, to take care of critically ill newborn infants. I have thought that these fragile newborn babies with complex birth defects or extreme prematurity are also on the margin, and are among the least and most vulnerable. Or are the least their mothers or fathers who feel so powerless to protect them, or their grandparents, or their siblings, or their friends, or their pastors? I have been involved in caring for children in Kenya, often dying remotely in poverty – are these among the least? Or is it their mothers with HIV, or the 13 year-old child orphan who now is the caretaker of her three younger siblings? Or the abusive father dying of AIDS who is without understanding of women as persons, without compassion or love? But I also have learned much from those often seen as the least - from children with special needs, those with autism, with profound neurodevelopmental impairment, those who are deaf or blind, those with severe cerebral palsy. These children often see the world with much greater clarity than those of us who are ‘whole’ might see it. Or are the least also those of us who may have poverty of spirit, and poverty of generosity, and poverty of love, but do not realize it? Are the least those who have the potential to change the world through a gift, but are never able to experience that giving? Are those included in the least of these?
There are many dimensions to poverty – but the inability to love our God, and then to love others as one would wish to be loved – may be the greatest poverty of all. So I believe it is important to try to be aware, to recognize when someone or something might be in a place of least – to try to be nonjudgmental - to recognize injustice where it exists, and to speak up or take action – but most of all to learn to love more like our Lord – accepting that we all have special needs and that love is the only and best answer.
Jim Lemons is a Neonatologist in Indianapolis, Indiana.