Summary: Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is recognized by simple acts of kindness.
We Are His Hands
Michael Jordan is considered by some to be the greatest athlete of all time. He finished his star-studded career with a stellar performance. Time was winding down on the NBA championship game. The Chicago Bulls were down by one basket. The ball was passed to Jordan. Jordan made a fancy move to go around the defender. The defender was so bluffed the he fell to the floor. Jordan sets his sight on the basket and releases just as the buzzer sounds, sinking a perfect 3-point shot, winning the game and the championship.
For most of us, these are the scenes we remember…slam-dunks taking off from the free-throw line, the fame, the popularity, the commercials, and championships. I’d like to share with you a story you might not have heard.
It involved a young boy by the name of Cornelius. He was a thin, extremely quiet boy. His mother and her boyfriend in prison. They had tortured, abused and starved Cornelius and his four year old brother, Lattie. The police discovered the abuse in time to save Cornelius’ life, but it had been too late to save his 4-year old brother.
The two great loves of his life were reading and basketball.
The newspaper reporter who had been writing of the tragedy, mentioned in one of his columns that Cornelius’ had a passion for basketball. Steve Schanwald, a vice president of the Chicago Bulls, read the column and called the reporter. Though tickets to Bulls’ games were without exception sold out, Schanwald said that if Cornelius would like to come to a game he would be sure there were tickets available. The reporter took him to the game. I share the story from his perspective.
To every Chicago youngster who follows basketball, the stadium was a shrine. Think of where Cornelius once was, locked up and tormented and hurt. And now he was in the stadium, about to see his first Bulls game.
We walked down a stairway, until we were in a lower level hallway. Cornelius stood between us. Then a door opened and a man came out. Cornelius looked up, and his eyes filled with a combination of wonder and awe and total disbelief.
Cornelius tried to say something; his mouth was moving but no words would come out. He tried to speak and then the man helped him out by speaking first.
“Hi, Cornelius,” the man said. “I’m Michael Jordan.”
Jordan knelt down and spoke quietly with Cornelius. He made some jokes and told some stories about basketball and he didn’t rush. You have to understand—for a long time the only adults Cornelius had any contact with were adults who wanted to hurt and humiliate him. And now Michael Jordan was saying, “Are you going to cheer for us today? We’re going to need it.”
Jordan went back into the locker room to finish dressing for the game. I walked Cornelius back upstairs to the court. There was one more surprise waiting.
Cornelius was given a red shirt of the kind worn by the Bulls’ ball boys. He retrieved balls for the players from both teams as they warmed up.
Then, as the game was about to begin, he was led to Jordan’s seat on the Bulls’ bench. That’s where he was going to sit—right next to Jordan’s seat. During the minutes of the game when Jordan was out and resting, Cornelius would be sitting with him; when Jordan was on the court, Cornelius would be saving his seat for him. At one point late in the game Jordan took a pass and sailed into the air and slammed home a basket. And there, just a few feet away, was Cornelius Abraham, laughing out loud with joy.
As we applauded the incredible basket…the act of kindness that Jordan showed Cornelius was receiving the applause of heaven.
You see, “Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured by small acts of kindness.”
Let’s turn in our Bibles to well known passage of scripture.
READ Matthew 25:31-40
In the countryside, sheep and goats mingled during the day. At night they were often separated; sheep tolerated the cooler air, while the goats had to be herded together for warmth. In sparse grazing areas the animals were sometimes separated during the day as well.
Here we find Jesus taking this common activity of a shepherd and applying deep symbolism to it. As is typical of Hebrew poetry, we don’t have here any gray areas. The picture is painted sharply in black and white. All men fall into one of two classes…symbolically, sheep and goats. The sheep, identified as the righteous are given the right hand, which was the place of power and honor.
The distinction between sheep and goats is easy for anyone to distinguish. This last week, the girls and I went to Owen’s farm. It was easy even for them to see the differences between the two.