Doing it unto the least of these, redux
On April 3, I received an email from a reader who asked me to write a part two of my column "Doing It Unto the Least of These." She shared with me that she frequently follows the ArcaMax Publishing site and was drawn to my column title because she recognized the quote. I believe she was referring to the Scripture reference in Matthew 25:40. However, there seemed to be somewhat of a disconnect, as she expressed that my theme "fell flat" for her because she did not understand the purpose of the points I was making regarding the calls for more stimulus aid and the need for us as individuals to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic. We exchanged email pleasantries, and I assured her that I would honor her request to revisit this topic. Although I have published a lot of columns within the past decade, I am open to receiving constructive feedback from readers. As an English professor, I always stress to my students the importance of conveying a coherent stance in writing, so I am no exception to this standard rule of rhetoric.
To better clarify my line of reasoning from my first "Doing It Unto the Least of These" column, I'll begin with Matthew 25:35-40, in which Jesus is explaining that those who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and taken in strangers will inherit "the kingdom" prepared for them "from the foundation of the world." Jesus further indicates that the righteous would ask Him when did they do these good works, and He would reply, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." In focusing on the "least of these" in that column, my discussion was primarily on the working poor. I emphasized how the devastating economic impact from the spread of the coronavirus has made the plight of the working poor more extreme, and I wholeheartedly agreed with the additional $600 federal unemployment benefit those who are out of work will begin receiving. We don't always view the working poor as suffering from the acute poverty that Jesus was referring to, but since many in this category live from paycheck to paycheck, any unexpected loss of income puts them in dire straits. Things have gotten progressively worse since I shared my position on the much-needed financial relief for the unemployed, as 26 million Americans filed for jobless claims for the first time within the past week. Most working poor are employed in low-income jobs that cannot be performed from their homes. Carrying out their job duties remotely is not an option, and according to 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many working poor have no savings accounts, which makes it more difficult to survive in this critical stretch of COVID-19. Also, last year around this time, the unemployment rate was roughly 3.6%, but because this was a low figure, we seemed to think that everything was going well for most people. Now that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the real unemployment rate could soar to 20.6%, our eyes have really been opened to the needs that the working poor had long before the coronavirus jolted our economy.
In bringing up the dismal circumstances that the working poor are facing, my reader wanted me to further elaborate on how "Americans could dig deep and willingly give of their personal resources." Many people around the nation are already doing this. For example, I was encouraged to read the Newsweek story that featured Toi Cudworth, a credit union worker in San Antonio, Texas, who gave $950 of her stimulus check to her city food bank. I believe that since we are in an economic and health crisis, the spirit of giving will touch many like Cudworth. So the main point I want to leave with my reader and others who may have been wondering what my purpose was in my first "least of these" column is that we cannot forget those who were the most financially vulnerable from the impact of COVID-19 once this crisis is over. Jesus would say today that the "least of these" will always be among us. COVID-19, as I previously wrote, has "glaringly exposed" what their needs truly are.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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