What brings fulfillment in life? If you were in church on Sunday, you know that question has a simple answer given to us directly by Jesus in John 13: We experience fulfillment through serving one another.
It is such a simple, yet so difficult command for us to actually live out. We like to look out for ourselves. We often obsess over our own personal problems. We think that fulfillment can somehow come through personal possessions or status. But Jesus gives us a reality check to serve one another–to wash the feet of others as Jesus did–in order to live life to the fullest.
In seminary I studied the work of a Roman Catholic theologian named Gustavo Gutierrez. Gutierrez began his career studying medicine and psychology. He eventually turned to matters of religion and spent much of his life working among poor people in the country of Peru. Serving people in need truly shaped his life and theology.
Gutierrez was known for his advocacy for serving others, and that theologically speaking, God always calls us to care for the “least of these” (a reference to Matthew 25 and Jesus’ teaching on the sheep and the goats). One of his famous phrases is that God has a preferential option for the poor. God calls Christians to specifically seek out the poor and marginalized in order to raise them up into new life.
That might sound kind of odd for us to reflect upon. After all, doesn’t God love all people? Isn’t God impartial and doesn’t prefer one group over another? Shouldn’t we also reach non-poor individuals, too?
All these questions might make a point in some sense, but we need to reflect more on what it means to have compassion and to share with others. The writings of Gutierrez and others like him have a strong biblical foundation. God calls us to seek out the needy in all circumstances. Jesus specifically said that the poor are blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. He also taught in Luke 14 that we ought to be hosting the outsiders and showing God’s love to them. And as Jesus commanded, we are to “wash the feet” of others in many ways, from feeding the hungry to being a friend to the lonely. All these “needs” involve people who are “poor” in one way or another–that’s why the need exists in the first place!
When we serve others in need, it is not because we should somehow love them “more” than other people in our life. But when we serve the needy, we potentially raise them up spiritually through the good news of the gospel, as well as providing material aid like with outreach projects. In turn, the people we serve experience a more fulfilled life because of God’s love through us. When that person is “uplifted” through our own Christian outreach, we then have to go back out and begin the process again, this time with other people who are in need. We always have a job to do to reach more people and grow God’s family. I think that’s what Gutierrez meant when he said to prefer people who were poor. We should prefer to have more brothers and sisters in Christ!
God gave us a vision for an uplifting cycle in how we do outreach. By loving people and serving those in need, we work to raise everyone up. As others experience the joy and peace of Christ, hopefully they too will join in our mission for the kingdom of God and reach new people.