“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…”(Matthew 25:35).

Matthew 25 is a familiar text to many of us, and because it is so familiar our brains might not fully comprehend its power to refocus our way of living in the world. On the Practice Discipleship day at the Gathering, young people will ponder what it really means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus.

It is challenging to be a follower, especially since the rise of the extrovert ideal in 20th centuryU.S. culture. Think about it. Who usually gets rewarded with the best jobs or the most public acclaim and trust, and who gets noticed most often in a classroom, in a committee meeting, even in church? Often it is people who can attract the most attention and/or speak the loudest and most persuasively. It is usually the leader of the pack who fascinates and attracts us. Is this the posture of a follower of Jesus?

As we heard in the gospel text on Sunday, March 3, Jesus says “get behind me.” Jesus is reminding us that he is the leader, and we are followers. How many teachers or parents would encourage their children to be followers rather than leaders? Yet, that is exactly what Jesus is suggesting. What makes it even more counter-cultural is the fact that the image of the one we are following is reflected in people who are living in poverty and those who are marginalized, not those who are wealthy, attractive and super articulate. Our leader is not a Tony Robbins-type of leader.

As difficult as it is for us to embrace, in Matthew 25 Jesus gives us our marching orders as Christians. How are we to live? We are to follow Jesus’ lead by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting those in prison. Not one of these actions will garner much attention or acclaim, but that is exactly what Jesus says we are to do.

This gospel is personal for Jesus as he identifies with people living in poverty and those who are marginalized. Jesus doesn’t say they were hungry or they were sick or unwelcome. Jesus says, I was hungry, naked, unwelcome and in prison. Jesus fully identifies with those who are hungry and on the margins.

Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. has said the message of this Gospel leads to a place of personal connection with people living in poverty. “Humility is that downward mobility and it leads to a place of solidarity with the poor and the outcasts. There is no distance, it’s a one-ness.” He adds that it’s a humility that never wants to have any distance between Jesus and people living in poverty.

Can you imagine what the church would look like if, by God’s grace, we would practice the kind of radical discipleship Jesus is inviting us to, where there is no distance between our self-understanding and those who are poor and marginalized?

This is one reason why I am so proud of ELCA youth for committing to come together in Jesus’ name for the sake of people inNew Orleans. They are demonstrating, by their numbers, that they are at least somewhat attentive to Jesus’ invitation to identify with people who are living in poverty and those who are marginalized. That kind of follower posture may not win them points with their friends or, for some, even their family, but it is the right thing to do. God bless your faithfulness, ELCA youth. See you in July.