“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” —Matthew 25:40

Today, we celebrate the birthday of Russian author Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy is known for such works as War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). He also penned a lesser known short story called, “Where Love Is, God Is.”

The story is about a man named Martin the Cobbler. After facing much loss, Martin, at the recommendation of a passing missionary, decided to read the Bible and devote his life to God.

One night, as Martin was reading the scriptures, he heard the voice of God whispering to him, saying that God would come to Martin’s shop the next day. Martin was filled with excitement and expectation, and as the day goes by, he watches and waits anxiously. While he is waiting for the Divine, he noticed an old soldier suffering from the cold. He invited the man inside to share a cup of tea. Later in the day, a struggling young mother walked by. Martin fitted her shoeless child with a warm pair of boots and gave her some coins to buy food for them both, before they went on their way. Then, as evening approached, he defended a poor young boy caught trying to steal an apple.

By the day’s end, Martin was disappointed that God had not visited as he expected. But then a voice came to him, saying, “Martin, did you not recognize me?” Suddenly, the three figures appeared in his home – the soldier, the struggling mother, and the poor boy. Martin began to understand – God had indeed appeared to him that day, through the faces of others.

This story has echoes of Jesus’ own teaching, when he said “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). It makes me wonder how often I fail to see God in the faces of the people – friends and strangers alike. I know that sometimes I don’t even see people’s humanity, let alone the divine light within them. Tolstoy’s story – and Jesus’ parable – remind me that as a person of faith, I am called to affirm the divine image in each person. I cannot affirm that without also working to meet their needs, working to make their lives better. Friends, let us join together in this great work – the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth.