One of the most loved character archetypes in stories of adventure and heroics is the lovable rouge. This character tends to play fast and loose with being on the right side of the law, they are always on the wrong side of authority, but they tend to have a heart of gold. Despite all of their bravado and smooth talking at the end of the day they can be counted on to do the right thing. Perhaps the most famous character of this archetype is Han Solo from Star Wars. However, I think the character that does it best is Captain Malcom Reynolds from Firefly. In the movie Serenity, the character has a line that best embodies this archetype. He quips, “I aim to misbehave.”
Usually we think of good church folk as being as straight laced, and rules following as one can get. However, “I aim to misbehave” could easily be a Christian rallying cry. Throughout church history, there have been those believers who in an attempt to live out their faith found themselves on the wrong side of culture and the law. Recently, the Malibu United Methodist Church found itself in the news because local civic officials wanted them to stop feeding the homeless in the community the church was based. On the opposite coast in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Arnold Abbot found himself in a similar situation a few years ago. Abbot, a 90 year old man, headed up the charitable organization Love Thy Neighbor. For over twenty years he has prepared and served meals to the homeless every Sunday and Wednesday. He serves these meals on a beach, in a central area that is easily accessible to the homeless population. However, the city of Fort Lauderdale recently enacted new ordinances that created so many impossible to meet restriction that it effectively made what Arnold Abbot had been doing for years illegal. Abbot faced a choice. He could follow the law or break it and feed the homeless. He chose to break the law and fed the homeless. He was arrested. Two days later, he did it again. He was arrested again. In an interview, Abbot said that he believes “in love thy neighbor as thyself”. When a reporter asked why he defied the law Arnold said, “These are the poorest of the poor . . . who could turn them away?”
While it was not the only motivation, many who participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960’s did so out of a faith base conviction. Going back another couple of generations, it was Christians who headed up the fight to enact child labor laws and who provided free education to poor children so they could escape the cycle of poverty. Going back even further, Christians were the ones who called for the end to slavery in England and led the abolition movement. Throughout Christian history, there have always been disciples of Christ serving on the margins of society, seeking to help the most downtrodden, the most helpless, and the most forgotten. Without fail doing so was against societal norms and sometimes the law. These faithful followers of Christ did aim to misbehave.
In the gospel of Matthew the last parable that Jesus tells involves the Messiah separating his followers in the same way a shepherd separates sheep and goats. The parable states the sheep are on the right, and they are to receive a blessed, eternal inheritance because of how they have served the messiah personally. However, the ones on the right do not remember this and this following exchange is recorded in Matthew 25:37-39: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you whatever you did for one of these least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “
Who are the least of these that we are to help? A lot of arguments have been made for various interpretations. One interpretation that refuses to go away (and one with a lot of validity), is the least of these are those who have the least. Jesus calls the least of these his brothers and sisters, because Jesus and God by extension identifies with the poor. We see this throughout the bible. We see it loud in clear in the prophets and we see it clearly evident in the ministry of Jesus. God is on the side of the oppressed, the overlooked, the disadvantaged, and the needy. The least of these are those who are so hungry they are starving, they are so thirsty they are dying, they are so poor the barely own the cloths on their backs, and they are the ones imprisoned and without hope. In this scripture Jesus claims these people as his people.
Jesus did not just specify the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned. He specified the least of these. He specified the people who are the most in need, the most oppressed, the most unloved, and the most forgotten. Loving these people can be messy, because some of them have lived messy lives. When it comes to serving the least of these, Jesus does not qualify it. He does not say to only help those who help themselves. He does not say to only feed the hungry if you can do it by keeping them out of a good neighborhood. He does not say to only clothe the naked who are not refugees. No what Jesus said was “whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The job of Christians is not to judge who is worthy. Our job is not to qualify who is deserving and who is not. Our job is to serve the least of these and radically display the very love of Christ that has saved us.
Philosopher and Theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly." The parable about the sheep and the goats is one of Jesus’ well known parables, and if we are being honest we all understand what it means. The question that leaves us with, is will we act accordingly? Will we feed the hungry, give something to drink to the thirsty, invite the stranger, clothe the needy, look after the sick, and visit those who need to be visited? By the grace of God, may the answer be yes. Let’s make a difference, and if necessary let’s aim to misbehave.