Jesus declared, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the people will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
During my first visits to Kenya, I spotted a visual of this passage. We were descending into the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley extends geographically and culturally north through Palestine. Nearing the floor of the valley, I spotted a few Maasai young men herding their livestock. Among the animals were sheep and goats. From my vantage point in the front seat of our van, I could not tell them apart.
In the context of this teaching, Jesus asserts that one of His criteria for separating the sheep from the goats was each person’s ability to see the marginalized of society and to meet their needs.
We often hear the term marginalized when someone is referring to a particular segment of society. These are people considered unimportant, powerless or offensive. The marginalized in our society today may be those of a specific ethnicity, immigrants, the disabled, those of the LGBTQ community, the poor, the homeless, the nerds, etc. Their status may be the result of the malicious intent of those who consider themselves a part of the acceptable majority in a given society. Often the marginalized are simply the unseen of a culture. It is not that they are invisible. It is a consequence of our human tendency toward selective sensitivity. We hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see based on our reality grid. Even Jesus faced this obstacle during His earthly ministry. Jesus repeatedly said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” The word “behold” (take a careful look at this) is used 596 times in 584 verses in the Bible. In Jesus’ message recorded in the Matthew 25 passage, both the sheep and the goats had the same lead-in to their question, “when did we see you . . ?
I often experience this when I am in crowds. You would think that a disabled person sporting a cane, walking with a noticeable limp would be easy to spot. Not so. I’m often bumped, jostled, and almost knocked down by those who choose not to see me.
A friend from our Valley Baptist Youth Group days in Burbank, California, recently commented on my blog, PROVOKING THE INTENDED OFFENSE. He responded to my closing comment. “Whenever anyone hears the term evangelical in our culture, the first thought should be, “This is a person who believes and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ.”
My friend wrote: “My one addition would be that (hopefully) when people hear the word “evangelical,” they would also identify evangelicals as people who live out the values of Jesus – including kindness, compassion for the poor, help for widows, orphans, and strangers/aliens. It was that winsome, servant posture that led an unbelieving world in the first century to then listen to the gospel’s good news, and the church exploded. I believe for the church to regain credibility in this day; we need to be strong in both “word and deed.” Our words- often judgmental – and divorced from acts of compassion have turned off a whole generation. Perhaps the only way forward is to lead with the full ethic of the gospel and gain a hearing for the source and power to sustain such a lifestyle.”
During His earthly ministry, Jesus ministered to the marginalized, the tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans, women, etc. Even the religiously ostracized shepherds were granted priority seating for the angelic announcement of His birth. Jesus warned that one of the criteria for his future judgment would be their treatment of the “least of these.” The designation “least of these” refers to the marginalized of society. (Matthew 25:31ff)
As a person with a physical disability, I circulated among the marginalized. Generally, those who chose not to see me were not malicious people. Their life focus was elsewhere. My wise parents lobbied for me to attend public school in an era when that was not the norm. (I share more about this in my blog “Adapting“) I do not remember seeing another disabled student during my school years until I entered college. There I met a fellow student who was in a class ahead of me. He used forearm crutches to navigate our physically challenging campus geography. Fortunately, I attended summer camps for crippled children during my elementary school season, first Woodeden Camp in London, Ontario Canada and then Lakewood Camp on the Ontario shore of Lake Erie. When I was younger, the Camp lasted two weeks. During my later elementary school season, the Camp lasted three weeks. At first, it was astonishing to see so many disabled children together in one setting. I witnessed a wide range of disabilities. Some had a “minor” disability like my own. The most seriously disabled moved about on “banana carts.” These carts were flat wooden wheelchairs, painted yellow, on which a crippled child could lay flat or recline with their legs outstretched in front of them. At these camps, I was privileged to befriend the unseen.
During my elementary school era, I also witnessed a curious reality. The socially marginalized in my classes were drawn to me and sought my friendship. For example, after my family relocated to Burbank, California, from Kitchener, Ontario, I enrolled in John Muir Junior High School. I discovered that the first person to reach out to me at the school resided only a few blocks from me. We struck up a friendship. Sadly, during the early days of our friendship, I came to realize that our classmates shunned him because of his perceived socially awkward behavior. He and I remained friends.
On the flip side, I discovered that If I reached out to make friends with the “in-crowd” in my class, I was accepted. Throughout my school career, I straddled the social chasm between the marginalized and the mainstream.
Growing up in the margins informs my political perspective. Unless the marginalized speak up or someone in the mainstream advocates for them, they remained unseen, unheard, and unhelped. One example of this reality surrounds the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
Justin Whitlock Dart, Jr. and Patrisha Wright were among the most notable lobbyists for the ADA. They raised their voices and shouted from the margins. Justin Dart, Jr is known as the Godfather of the ADA. He had contracted polio in 1948 before entering the University of Houston. There he earned undergraduate degrees in history and education in 1954. The university refused to give him a teaching certificate because of his disability.
Ms. Wright is known as “the General” for her work in coordinating the campaign to enact the ADA. She is widely considered the main force behind the campaign lobbying for the ADA. She is legally blind.
These ADA pioneers forcefully stood against mainstream opposition, even from the Presidential level of government, and vigorously advocated for this population of the marginalized.
When I evaluate candidates for political office, I want to learn about their relationship with the marginalized?
For example, Barak Obama worked as a community organizer before his involvement in politics. As a community organizer, he worked face to face and hands-on with the marginalized of the community. He worked to empower people to stand up to those in the community who wielded the power of wealth and political advantage. That experience influenced his policy decisions during his tenure as a Senator and as President. President Obama continues his focus on the marginalized through his foundation, established in 2014. For example, one of the programs his foundation oversees is My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. Its purpose is to address challenges and opportunity gaps that boys and young men of color face, providing support through mentoring, education, job training, and other activities.
During my research on Donald Trump before his 2016 election, I asked the same question. Did he have any face to face, hands-on experience working with the marginalized of society? To date, I have not found any evidence that he did. Trump formed his foundation in 1988. The foundation’s funds have mostly come from donors other than Trump, who reportedly had not given personally to the charity since 2008. In 2016, the New York State Attorney General’s office notified the Trump Foundation that the foundation appeared to violate New York laws regarding charities. The New York State Attorney General’s office ordered the Trump Foundation to cease its fundraising activities in New York immediately. In June 2018, the New York Attorney General’s office filed a civil suit against the foundation for $2.8 million in restitution and additional penalties. The lawsuit named Trump himself as well as his adult children Donald, Jr., Eric, and Ivanka. In December 2018, the foundation agreed to cease operation and disburse all its assets. Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who oversaw the investigation and lawsuit, said the investigation uncovered a “shocking pattern of illegality.” Months later, a New York State judge ordered Trump to pay $2 million to a group of charities. The judge stated that Trump breached his fiduciary duty to oversee the foundation that bears his name”.