The Least of These

We’ve been adopted by a kitten. She’s a scrawny black creature who darted out of the bushes a few days ago, mewling and shivering, afraid of all of us but desperately hungry. Now we have a dish for food and water which the boys keep full. The kitten stays mostly in the thick bushes beneath the pine trees beside our house. I suspect she believes that she’s actually a house cat now, given that the boys seem to spend a good portion of their time in those bushes as well, building forts and getting covered in sap that makes their hair stick up at odd angles and leaves them smudged like they’ve been working in the coal mines. The kitten is still skittish, though last night she crawled into my lap as I sat outside. Not that I like her, mind you. She’s a cat, after all, and I don’t like cats.

This kitten has me thinking that maybe “the least of these” is different creatures for different people. For those of us who prefer the poor and wretched to stay on their own side of the tracks, the least of these fits the traditional profile. For those who bathe themselves in the misery of others, laboring in soup kitchens and shelters, perhaps the least of these comes disguised as the repugnant hypocritical religious type who wants nothing to do with the poor. Maybe the least of these, if you are a dedicated liberal, is Jerry Falwell. Perhaps, if you are a hard-core conservative, the least of these is Hillary Clinton. Maybe for some of us the least of these is a scraggly cat who promises only to scratch our children and tear up our running shoes before getting hit by a car and introducing the littlest ones in the family too soon to death.

There’s no telling, is there, who or what will cross your path once you start opening your door to strays, be they cats or people. I know a few people — a precious few — who seem to have spotlights over their homes, calling every broken-down drunk and homeless single mother and three-legged dog in the county to their doorsteps. I used to think it was their circumstances that were peculiar, that they just seemed to be always happening upon those in need. Now I see it’s more the case that we all cross the paths of those in need, but we’ve trained ourselves to ignore them. We wall them out, whether they are the hurting, socially awkward people in our own churches, or the desperately poor people south of our national border.

I’m the best wall-builder I know. I don’t know why a wisp of a kitten makes me think about that, any more than I know why sometimes I start humming “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” or why I sleep with the blankets drawn over my head, even when it’s hot. Maybe I think, as I watch her lap up the dish of cool water, of all the people whom I’ve denied water. Maybe I wish people were easy as kittens. Maybe I see myself in the shivery black thing that hides in the bushes and shrinks from touch.

I like to think that in letting the kitten adopt us, I’m teaching the boys to care for those in need. I want to believe they will never deny water to the thirsty. These are the things you ponder as you guide their little souls to the author and perfecter of faith, praying you don’t cause them to stumble before you’ve handed them over.

The kitten, meanwhile, is slowly taking to them. When they are sitting on the ground she prances up to them in that sideways manner of skittish creatures and pounces on their hands or shoes. For their part, the boys are learning not to practice their manly animal-trapping skills on her. Instead they make kitty noises and stroke her sap-covered fur. I think they’ll make good protectors one day. Good givers of water.


  1. Jenn

    Kittens are peculiarly adept at making one love them, no matter how reluctantly we view their species. They also have an extraordinary knack for breaking your heart by dying on you so you should get her vetted. For her own sake, as well as for the health of the boys… Thank you for writing so eloquently and lovingly about the least of these…

  2. Sybill

    I love your cat story, this is exactly what cats teach us. They take us by surprise and we end up loving them. I rescued four, my first one was pregnant and gave birth to three lovely kittens. Nobody wanted them, and mom-cat would have hated us, had we given away her babies. My son who was a teenage boy at that time fell in love with all of them taking over a Dad-role that he keeps until today. It was very healthy for him as it is for your boys to learn to care. He learned to see the values in life, other than a fancy apartment, which we couldn’t afford to his regret.

  3. ns

    Sometimes, the least of these, are the least because of their own choices. To open your heart and home to them, sometimes will destroy you, as it is a very ugly and disillusioning view they will show you. And many of “the least of these” will take you down with them, destroying you and all that is special to you, even though you will give up everything to help them.

    Sometimes, building walls is not a bad thing if you want to protect those you love from the destruction of “the least of these.”

    Is it noble to destroy yourself and those around to help the “least of these” – but then yield no results? Can Satan be reformed? Or should he be cast out of heaven? Sometimes, walls are good.

    Read Gerry Phelps, she talks about the dedication and hardship involved in helping “the least of these.” And I’ve discovered it to be true too, through my own devastating personal experience. And now, I construct walls.

  4. Lincoln S.

    This is a touching story and a touching insight. Realization that we have learned to ignore the needy is something everyone could afford a slightly larger doese of. And seeing oneself as a particularly skilled wall-builder…well, that one hit home, too.

    Let’s all hope for the interference of a scraggly black kitten at some point in our lives, and hope we learn the lesson being offered.

  5. relative of "the least of these"

    To “ns”:

    Maybe you’d like to think that helping requires so much self sacrificing that it jeapordizes your self security, maybe you were taught differently.

    Maybe you think that help isn’t helping if your not giving pieces of you to be consumed by the “least of these”, just maybe. I was raised by one “least of these” and I learned that I need not go down with the ship and sink, I even learned that I need not be disappointed in lack of results, because all that mattered was that I reached out and provided opportunity for the taking, for the healing, for the benefiting of the “least of these”.

    The most important lesson I learned though was that in order to be able to continue to help, I needed to make my security and sanity priority.
    We cannot change people, we cannot control the will of others, we can just let the loving water flow.

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