“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these [siblings of mine], you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
I’m struck by the word “one” in this line from the story of the sheep and goats. To be among those who enter God’s joy—whether that means going to heaven or finding heaven on earth—Jesus says do it to one.
I hope Jesus means it, that one’s enough, that it’s everything. Because that’s a low bar anyone can reach. Anyone can throw one jacket over one pair of shoulders, which means everyone can know divine bliss.
Some Christians impose a higher bar, require more: You need to accept Jesus as your savior and adopt a bunch of religious, social, and political commitments that allow you, strangely, to be cruel to your neighbor.
But Jesus simplifies: It’s one stranger, one prisoner, one man in a ditch, one migrant from Venezuela. It’s about the shining thing that happens when you encounter and serve just one.
Jesuit poet and activist, Daniel J. Berrigan, understood what Jesus meant by entering the joy of the Lord. He put it this way:
“Sometime in your life, hope you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope you might have baked it or bought it for him. For that look on his face, for your hands meeting his across the bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or die a little, even.”
One time. One person. One look. One touch. One lasting joy.
One by one by one comes Paradise.
Even if it’s only once, even if it’s only to one, grant me the willingness to relieve pain, the grace to discover your joy.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.