The following reflections were presented to my congregation as my annual letter in the bulletin of reports for our 2011 annual meeting. I offer them to you for what they are worth. I am the unlikely pastor. Welcome to my world. Peace out.)
Grace to you and peace from the one who is, who was and who is to come.
As I shared with the Council at our January 18, 2011 meeting, I am still in the process of digesting all that I experienced on my recent study trip to Rome, and will be for some time to come. Using Jesus parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25 as a backdrop. I reflected with the Council on the resolve of those early Christians in Rome to minister to “the least of these”, those whom proper Roman society had abandoned.
The early Christian community in Rome was located far from the gleaming white marble-clad seats of Roman power. The vast number of early Christians in Rome lived in the swampy marshland that existed on the other side of the Tiber River. They were numbered among what we today call “the working poor”, primarily employed in janitorial positions, in slaughter houses, and as longshoremen off-loading the barge loads of wine, oil, grain and other produce and tribute that fed the Roman economy.
They didn't have much. But what they did have they shared openly with one another and those in need. It was Roman practice that if for any reason and at anytime a family decided that they did not want a child, they were free to simply abandon it outside the city walls, leaving it to die of exposure. Those early Christians would take these abandoned children into their own homes do what they could to nurse them back to health and if successful, raise them as their own. Many of these children died. In touring the catacombs it was sad to see the disheartening number of tiny graves dug out of the volcanic rock indicating the burial site of a young child or infant. But at least for the latter part of their life they received the love and care that they needed. What you do for the least of these...
Another site that we saw was an island in the middle of the Tiber River, the site of a modern day hospital, but at one time home to a shrine to Aesculapius, the god of healing. It was there during outbreaks of small pox and plague that Roman families would abandon their sick to their fate. The early Christians would rescue those left for dead and take them into their own homes, attempt to nurse them back to health, and if successful continue to support them in whatever way they could, adopting them into their own families. What you do for the least of these...
There is a pattern here that can be instructive for us if we have the will and the wisdom to discern it. Who are those whom our society abandons to their fate? How can we take them into our community and share our life, our love with them? How do we in our life together minister to “the least of these” that populate the margins of our day to day experience? There is a pattern in the early Christian witness that can be instructive for us. Do we have the will and the wisdom to discern it?