Connecting beyond our comfort zone

The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ – Sunday, November 26 – Gospel reading – Matthew 25:31-46

When Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me,” I believe he is talking about his desire for us to love and connect with others – not with just our family members and friends, but with those outside of our comfort zone. In so doing – in reaching beyond ourselves and in noticing that the world is bigger than our inner circle of loved ones – we also bring ourselves in closer connection with Christ.

This particular call to help those who are hungry, homeless, sick and imprisoned is very humbling for me because it makes me aware of how very little I do. Sure, I have a decent excuse – I am raising little kids and I’m busy, but I can do more. We can all do more.

Until a few months ago, I spent most of my life ignoring homeless people, especially those standing on the street with signs asking for help. When driving by them, I kept the windows rolled up and the doors locked, and told myself that they weren’t safe to interact with… that always seemed to make me feel better about not helping them. And then one day, I took a moment and actually looked at the face of a person who was asking for help.  And I thought, what if that was me? Or, what if that was actually Jesus? And then I went on to consider how that person may have gotten to that point. If they are now at a point at which their only hope for sustenance is to ask a stranger, that must mean that they have no family and no friends who can offer them the help they need. They must feel so alone. And afraid.

Something changed in me that day, and all it took was a moment of allowing myself – or maybe forcing myself – to feel empathy. So from that point on, if I come across someone who needs help, I actually try to do something to help. To give. To care. I now keep little manna bags in my car with food and money, but if I don’t happen to have them on hand, I just give whatever I can. One time I had nothing to give, so I ended up coming back with something later in the day, and when I found the man I wanted to help, he chuckled and told me I was stalking him. It was so worth the extra time it took – not only did I help him out a bit, but we also shared a good laugh together.

Actually responding to and connecting with people in need has been very intrinsically rewarding. It’s also a good reminder of what a blessing it is to have all of my basic needs met… and then some. Additionally, I’ve been surprised at the faith and love that those I help share back with me. They are strangers, yet they share with me a depth of love and gratitude that is uniquely profound. It is a dimension of love that I don’t experience with anyone else in my life.

Other than occasionally when I sneeze and when I’m in Mass, the ONLY people in my life who look me in the eyes and say “God Bless You” are homeless people. It happens nearly every time I give them something. Many of them are blessed with a faith that is strong even though they have very little. They need help, but they know they are not alone. They don’t seem afraid. And they are magnificently free to love. When they tell me “thank you” or “God bless you”, they speak with words that are confidently saturated with love. This is not a love that they feel just because I helped them. It’s a love that comes from something bigger, from God. Something they understand and feel more tangibly and deeply than many people I know who have more than they’ll ever need.

So… when Christ calls us to help those in need, he is calling us to connect. And I’m finding that in the process of making those connections, there is love exchanged. If even for a moment, that exchange of love between strangers is life-giving, enriching, and spiritually sustaining. Faith grows. Love expands. And the world is a little bit brighter.

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