I breathed deep, taking in the fresh desert scent as my feet crunched along the hard-packed dirt track. The rain three days ago washed everything, and the fall air brushed against me with a welcome crispness after the summer heat. The beauty and vastness of the desert never failed to calm me and make me thankful.
Something moved in the dirt ahead. Just a hint of movement. I slowed, watching for what caught my eye. And stopped.
A tiny lizard peered up at me from the sand, his head tilted at an angle, his body so still only the blink of his eye let me know he was alive. I waited for him to scurry away. Lizards never stayed still long when I passed by. This one didn’t move.
I took a step closer. Another step. I could almost feel the tension in his small body, but he didn’t move. I took another step and knelt down. He was little, only about three inches from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. He scrabbled his front feet like he wanted to run but something held him in place.
Bending down, I noted one of his back legs buried in the sand. The hard-packed sand. The poor thing must be terrified, but he couldn’t go anywhere. He stayed frozen in place as I gently nudged his leg to see if it would come free of the dirt. It didn’t. I couldn’t pull or the fragile appendage would break.
I began to dig through the sand a couple of inches from the lizard’s leg. His wide-eyed gaze stayed glued to me. For the next several minutes I loosened the dirt, getting closer to the trapped leg. I realized by now that at least half of his leg had sunk into the roadway, probably after the heavy rain. He’d gotten stuck and the sand hardened around him. He’d been here at least two or three days. I was amazed he hadn’t been killed.
The sand crumbled bit-by-bit and finally his leg slid free and seemed intact and unbroken. I expected him to scurry away, but he didn’t. He moved his leg. Stared up at me. Waited.
As gently as possible I ran the tip of my finger down his head. He tilted the slightest bit toward me as if saying, “Thank you,” and moved in fits and starts to the brush at the side of the trail. I went on my way thankful for the chance to help him.
I realized, after the fact, that maybe I should have taken a picture, or done a video of him as I freed him, but my main concern had been to help this little creature who would otherwise die. I wasn’t digging in the dirt for my benefit but for his.
Over the next weeks I thought a lot about Matthew 25, where Jesus talked about “the least of these” and how when we help even the person who matters little it is the same as helping Jesus Himself. I realize a lizard is not the “least” He was referring to, but that moment started me thinking. Who is the leastthat I’m supposed to help? Who is God asking me to help that I’m walking past without noticing? Who is trapped and unable to get free on their own?
Is it the person in the parking lot struggling to load something heavy in a car by themselves? Is it the person in the pew near me sitting alone? Is it the homeless person I pass on the sidewalk? Is it the child who annoys me with their behavior that demands attention? Is it the pregnant woman with no one to help her? Is it the former serviceman who struggles to find their place in life? Is it the adolescent being forced to consider a life in trafficking? Is it the offensive person who covers up their need for a friend with brashness?
Helping someone can be as simple giving an encouraging word, or that assistance can be more complicated. Giving a smile or a word of encouragement is easy enough, but God may be asking me to consider doing more. Maybe the “least” this time is something more long term and emotionally draining. Yet, when I consider that I’m doing it for Jesus, the cost is not worth considering.
If I will kneel down and dig in the dirt for a lizard, I will kneel down and dig in the dirt for the person Jesus asks me to help. Who is “the least of these” to me.
Who is “the least of these” to you?
Will you join me and kneel down to help?
…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.(Matt. 25:40 NKJV)