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First Thoughts: Welcome the child, welcome Jesus

 

The Rev. Larry Hollon
The Rev. Larry Hollon

Timmy was a rambunctious little guy who lived a couple of houses up the block from us in a deteriorating neighborhood in an economically depressed small town in central Oklahoma.

He would tease our golden retriever until the dog charged the fence, making me fearful he would scale the fence and attack the boy.

Timmy was a bundle of unrefined raw energy, seeking expression in every unacceptable way possible.

Timmy's house was a ramschackle place that in my childhood was home to a couple with no children. They kept the place neat and trim. Not so today, however. The house obviously needed repairs to the roof and outside walls. Old plastic toys, tin cans, plastic jugs and other detritus filled the grounds so that mowing was impossible, so nobody bothered.

I liked Timmy. I learned from talking with him of his wonderment of the world, his curiosity and his uncontainable energy.

One day he brought an old bicycle to me and asked me to air its flat tires. I went to the tool shed to get the pump (keeping Timmy outside the fence and away from the dog). But the tube wouldn't hold air, so I went back to the shed for tools to remove it from the rim and patch it.

The old tires were cracked and the tube had so many holes it required another couple of trips to get all the patches and glue necessary to get the job done.

As we kneeled over the old worn-out tube and I worked to patch it, Timmy said, without looking at me and with no self-consciousness, "How come you're so nice to me?"

I wasn't prepared for the question. It almost took my breath away.

I looked down and said quietly, fumbling a bit, I imagine, "Well, you're a nice boy; why wouldn't I be nice to you?"

Timmy replied, "Well, most people ain't very nice to me."

It felt like a sacred moment, as if God had jerked me by the shoulders and said, "Wake up. There's more going on here than patching an old bicycle tire. I told you I would appear when you least expect it."

I saw Timmy with new eyes, a vulnerable, naive, rambunctious, innocent little boy who was already discovering his place in society. He is viewed as more problem than possibility.

And I thought to myself, no child should ever have to ask, "Why are you so nice to me?"

Fortunately, faithful people in The United Methodist Church agree. They understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Bring the little children to me, for of such is the Kingdom of God."

As a church, we work to prevent child labor and human trafficking, seek to improve the quality of public education, provide protective services for vulnerable and abused children, save lives through malaria prevention and better health care for mothers and children, and work to improve the quality of life in myriad ways because we believe it is an imperative for disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world in these ways.

When we care for the weakest and most vulnerable among us, it is as if we are caring for Jesus himself. And we answer the question, "Why are you so nice to me?" before it is asked. We act because we are called by our profession of faith to participate in the ongoing transformation of the world that God desires for all of God's children to flourish.

We do it for Timmy and others like him. We do it because when we see the least of these, we see the face of Jesus.

The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA+CULTURE blog at www.larryhollon.com.