I am somewhat particular about my keys. When I was in college, I kept my room keys on a separate key ring from my car key (which was not on a ring and did not have a fob) and my actual house keys were always in the car. I could never find a keychain that suited me enough to want to lug it around in my pockets.
I received my first keychain several years ago for Christmas from my dad. It was simple: A Gonzaga Bulldog. But it signified much more than the money he spent on it. It was an affirmation of my graduate studies and a show of support for my chosen path. And, in an odd way, it was my dad telling me that he loves me.
My family is not very outward when it comes to feelings and emotions (my mom is the exception —she’ll just say it outright). The rest of us, though, have our own way of saying that we love and care for each other. My dad will ask if any of us need money (he is a provider by nature) and tells us to be careful. My oldest brother will pick up the tab for dinner. My older brother will volunteer to help with projects around the house. My younger brother will send occasional text messages just to let us know he is thinking about us. And I always end conversations with “Talk with you soon” (rather than “talk to you soon”). And, for my dad, I always tell him I will be careful.
My family’s love languages toward each other could be considered elusive from an outsider’s perspective. But it works for us. In some sense, we are looking to ensure that each other’s basic needs are met and then moving beyond those basics. And even when words are unspoken, we all have our actions that indicate our care for each other.
Several years ago, a friend from high school sent out pleas for backpacks and Bibles. Curious, I inquired about her intent. She told me that she wanted to distribute backpacks and Bibles to the homeless community in our hometown. Essentially, she wanted to love people by providing what she considered paramount.
But from the standpoint of the recipients, I am not convinced that this would feel like love. I would imagine that, upon receiving a backpack, they would open it and wonder where the food, gloves, blankets and other resources are. And, in my cynical and disparaging mind, I would go as far as to say that they would think, “Why do I need this?” When one is hungry or cold, he is going to desire food and shelter. And if we take the lead from Matthew 25:31-46, we see that those who provide for the basic needs of the marginalized are praised and blessed.
But there is something missing from this passage. At no point in this lesson do we here directly from the “one who has been marginalized” (even though this is a parable). We simply cannot know if this figure directly asked for food, shelter, clothing, nursing, etc. And, I would argue, we need to assume that this figure was silent and that those who provided diligently observed to determine its needs.
There is much good that can come from reading Scripture and religious texts. But words do not warm the body or fill the stomach.
To genuinely love our neighbors, we need to observe their needs and provide what we are able. My Gonzaga keychain will not fill my stomach or warm my body, but I know that, had it come down to a choice between buying the trinket or providing a meal for me if I were hungry, my dad would have provided the meal. My most basic needs had already been met and the keychain was an expression of his love for me.
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