By Cryston Josiah — What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. —Luke 15:4,5
As we continue to simultaneously experience the realities of a deadly pandemic and racial tension, many have wondered about how we, as Christians, should relate to the group that Jesus, in Matthew 25, refers to as “the least of these.” That passage speaks for itself and clearly shows that as the King, the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats. The separation is not based on knowledge of doctrine and intellectual understanding of theology, but on their response to those who needed help in a real and tangible way.
Many have debated the politics of the Black Lives Matter sentiment and have asked if we, as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, should be for or against it. I would humbly submit that the biblical passage which came to mind in helping us understand why this concept should be so important to Christians was the Scripture quoted above. Jesus, in this parable, gives us a glimpse of the compassion that God has for those who are spiritually lost. Yet, it also creates a window into His mind of how God persistently seeks to save the lost, not only spiritually, but physically as well. In this text, it is not that the 99 sheep did not matter to the Shepherd. However, they clearly were not the ones who were lost or in danger. I remember reading the old Uncle Arthur Bible Stories with the picture of the Shepherd clinging to the rocky cliff with one hand and the lost sheep with the other.
Regardless of our political or personal persuasion, the Christ-like character of God is always concerned for those who are “lost” and in danger. All American historians and sociologists have documented that, from the very birth of this nation, all men were indeed not treated as though they were created equal, as blacks were considered three-fifths of a man. Slavery, and subsequently the remnants of slavery, including Jim Crow laws, redlining, housing discrimination, mass incarceration, police brutality, financial discrimination, etc., have been the reality for the black sheep, the black and brown people in our nation.
The “black” sheep has not only been lost in America, but brought here not of its own will, and in real danger. Thus, there is a spiritual and moral responsibility for Christians to not only see the need to leave the ninety-nine who are safe and secure, and who still indeed matter to the Shepherd, but to search for, and care for and protect the one that is in danger, an endangered life.
It is such a blessing to know that our very own Seventh- day Adventist pioneers were strict abolitionists. Ellen G. White, Joseph Bates, and others wrote letters and articles condemning slavery and racism. They even sternly addressed Adventist churches and leaders, who endeavored to continue racist practices and traditions. In addition, they were supportive of joining and connecting with other groups, who were not members of our denomination on moral things that mattered.
Ellen G. White commented:
Light has been given me that there are those with most precious talents and capabilities in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Much time and money have been absorbed among us in ways that bring no returns. Instead of this, some of our best talent should be set at work for the WCTU, not as evangelists, but as those who fully appreciate the good that has been done by this body. We should seek to gain the confidence of the workers in the WCTU by harmonizing with them, as far as possible. (Review and Herald, June 18, 1908) What a beautiful sentiment. As far as possible, Mrs.
White proposed that we should work for the good of humanity, even if we have disagreements on other points. Her sentiments appear to echo Jesus’ ministry statement of Luke 4:18, which was to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly makes the appeal to the people and the religious leaders to recalibrate their minds about who is really our neighbor and what should be our primary focus as Christians.
In addition to Jesus’ mission statement written by Luke, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus highlights that those who have no concern for the least of these will suffer the same fate as Satan himself and his angels. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus declared, “. . . Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Ladies and gentlemen, why would our loving Lord make such a solemn declaration? He goes on to explain clearly that when you went on your merry way not caring for those who were hungry or thirsty or naked or incarcerated or sick, or when you didn’t even care why they were in those conditions and did nothing to alleviate their pain, anxiety, or suffering, it was Me that you were ignoring.
Even while those goats on the left are stunned and baffled, Jesus explained to them that He was the man who had a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He was the one wrongly accused, or was judged and executed without a trial, or was marginalized and oppressed, and you literally did and said nothing. The attitude toward the conditions of those described in this passage is literally what separates them from being sheep, the ones who hear, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you,” or being goats who are eternally lost. Jesus summarily acknowledged that the goats rejected the Word which says, “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8,9).
In contrast, the attitude of the righteous toward those who are in need, toward those who are caged like animals, toward those who are unjustly beaten and murdered by those sworn to protect and serve them, toward the oppressed and the downtrodden, toward the marginalized, toward the hungry, thirsty, and naked, toward the stranger, that attitude of care, concern and compassion becomes the clincher for the King. That attitude of concern for those who can’t fend for themselves, those who can’t defend themselves, those who can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps because they never had boots—that attitude was the saving clincher for the Son of Man.
My prayer for us today is simply that we may see that one “Black” sheep and the least of these. And subsequently, that we will do all we can to demonstrate that they matter as much to us as they matter to God.
–Cryston Josiah is vice-president for administration, Central States Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Email him at: [email protected]