I first met Rick Johnson while attending sixth grade at Franklin Grade School in Danville, Illinois. Franklin was an old red brick school in an old part of town. We all knew that students at Franklin came from homes of modest means, but Rick Johnson’s family was poorer than most.
You see, Rick Johnson (not his real name) was an orphan. He lived with his grandparents instead of his parents. Rumor among the other students had it that his parents had been killed in an automobile accident, either both or one of them—no one knew for sure.
Rick’s grandparents were poor. When Rick’s grandfather came to the school, he always wore the same old worn-out pair of farmer’s overalls. In fact, Rick always wore the same black slacks and white shirt. Most of the time the shirt was only partly tucked in. But other students didn’t make fun of him much for his clothes; they mostly made fun of his glasses.
Rick wore large black glasses that somehow were always on the end of his nose. Since he was short and not athletic, other students constantly made fun of Rick about lots of things. Rick was the last one chosen for softball or kickball teams. If other students bumped into him in the hallway, they would yell, “Oh, I’ve got Johnson cooties!” and wipe their shirt several times.
Rick was constantly being made fun of and picked on. For him, each day at school was another day of humiliation. He did his best to ignore everyone else, but a few times his anger got the best of him and he screamed through his tears at those mocking him—saying how awful they were.
Things didn’t change much for Rick during the junior high years. Even a new school didn’t bring relief from the torture of teasing he endured. He was always by himself because he never had any friends, and most of the students didn’t notice him much as we went on through our high school years.
“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones”
Jesus Christ warned His followers not to treat people like my classmates treated Rick Johnson. “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven,” He said (Matthew 18:10 Matthew 18:10Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×).
What is it about human nature that people —especially young people—tend to despise “little ones”? Even though generations of people are born and die, human nature remains the same. We deal today with the same challenges that have faced people of all generations. If despising “little ones” was a problem in Jesus’ day, it is also a sin we have to be aware of today in our lives.
Jesus Christ also knew that the vast majority of His followers would be the “meek of the earth” or “little ones.” He is not now calling the great ones of this world (1 Corinthians 1:26 1 Corinthians 1:26For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
American King James Version×).
How often do we remember these words: “… Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42 Matthew 10:42And whoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
American King James Version×). So there is a reward for helping the little ones.
I don’t know what Rick Johnson did after high school. I remember that he made good grades, so I hope he went to college and has had a successful career.
While I didn’t pile on with the other students and make fun of him, I regret not befriending him and helping him. The only times I spoke with Rick were when others were not around. I was afraid that if the other kids saw me with Rick Johnson, they would make fun of me too.
Years later I began to learn the importance of making an effort to befriend those who appear on the outside to be less fortunate.
Focusing on the little people
The lessons came by observing a lady who appeared obsessed by the idea—my wife, Patty. No matter what church congregation we attended, what neighbors we knew or what people we worked with, she always made an effort to first become the friend of those who were less outgoing, lower on the economic scale or showed any symptoms of inferiority.
One evening after we had been married almost 10 years I asked her why. I observed how much she had brightened the lives of so many people and how easily she made friends with those who had few friends. So I asked why she naturally focused on the “little people.”
Her answer was very simple. “When I was in the hospital, it was the little people who sent me cards and came to see me. I have never forgotten.”
You see, many years earlier, when Patty was 8 years old, she was riding in the back seat of a car that was hit by a train at a crossing. Her mother, grandmother and younger brother were killed, and her younger sister was severely injured. Patty was thrown out of the rear window and suffered many cuts and bruises, but she was able to recover.
While recuperating in the hospital she remembers that the “popular people” gave her no thought, but the ones others made fun of came to see her and brought her cards and flowers. They were her real friends until graduation.
True religion doesn’t consist of building large church buildings and adding huge numbers of people who attend services. True religion is much more than that. It is encouraging and giving validation to “little ones.”
James tells us that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27 James 1:27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
American King James Version×).
The world you live in is full of orphans, widows and “little people” who will greatly benefit from your friendship and encouragement. GN