By Dr. Jim Sulliman
When most people think of Santa Claus, they think of a symbol of gift-giving. He is someone who is jolly, rewards those who are nice rather than naughty, and who always is readily identified by his beautiful red suit with accents of white fur. But there are very real people who have the potential to give us the greatest unimaginable gift of all, that dress quite differently.
Some do not look in any way like the overweight gentleman that miraculously negotiates entry into homes through the tight space within chimneys without getting a speck of soot on his crimson wardrobe. Indeed, it may be hard to tell what color they are wearing because they are covered in filth. They are gaunt with skin pulled tightly across their bones, and starving. “For I was hungry and you gave me food,…” (Mt. 25-35).
The color of the clothing that others wear, also, may not be readily discernible and consist of a minimalistic covering that is nothing more than tattered rags in their daily battle with intense heat. While a human being can go quite a while without food, death comes much sooner for those deprived of hydration. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink,…” (Mt. 25:35).
Sometimes the color of the clothing is difficult to see because it is so dust-covered from miles of travel to a place where they are not known. We can be alone for a long time and still be all right, but when we FEEL alone, it can be devastating. “a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Mt. 25:35).
Maybe a “Santa” comes with no clothing at all…”naked and you clothed me,” (Mt. 25:36). We may see this person wearing the yellow of a hospital gown,…”ill and you cared for me,” (Mt. 25:36) or perhaps dressed in orange or black and white stripes…”in prison and you visited me. (Mt. 25:36).
Any gift that a representative of St. Nicholas may bring us at Christmas is absolutely nothing compared to the gift that the people in these six categories can give to us 365 days of the year. For the gift that they bring is the gift, not of the momentary glee that comes from opening a Christmas present, but the joy of being with God, our friends, and loved ones for all eternity.
We may mistakenly and pridefully think, of course, that it is us who are so wonderful as we make “sacrifices” in taking care of those in need. How arrogant we may be in our service to them! Satan will do all it can to make certain that we let the whole world know how kind we are and all that we give to others “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them, otherwise you will have no recompense from your Heavenly Father.” (Mt. 6:1).
No, it is not us who bring the greatest gift to those who can benefit by our attempts to be of help, but it is the extraordinary and most precious gift that we may receive in return, but only if we truly serve with love rather than simply going through the motions. That is something that only God and each person knows for certain. Jesus tells us what this priceless gift is: “Then the king will say to those on his right ‘Come those who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” (Mt: 25:34) “
So many times, when people see the sufferings of others, they question God’s love and wisdom. We see people throughout the world who are in such desperate need of the things that we Americans just take for granted. I will always remember my trip to Haiti many years ago where I saw children who looked like walking skeletons and the taste of “mud cookies” which is all their mother had to feed them…dirt mixed with sugar cane syrup.
How can a loving God allow such suffering that we see in homes, hospitals, and institutions? Why are there so many poor and needy? The answer may be that they all are giving the rest of a chance to go to heaven because, in a very real way, like Peter, they hold the key. They are the givers of the greatest gift of all and they are not always dressed in red.
It is difficult to find a valid excuse for not doing all we can to serve others in need…they are innumerable and easy to find. If we don’t feel comfortable going out of our way and doing things for people, Jesus provides all the incentive we need: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one o these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt: 25:40).
Submitted by James R. Sulliman, Ph.D. Individual, marriage, and family therapist in Abilene, TX. “Live life courageously.