Recently in our community group gathering my friend Rick said something that opened up a new way of thinking about a familiar teaching of Jesus. I love it when God does takes our understanding and blasts open a larger truth.
In that final week before Jesus crucifixon he spent time teaching his disciples. He taught on subjects like the near future, what will happen to him, and His return. During that time He portrayed what the final judgment will look like as God separates the “sheep,” those who followed, from the “goats,” those that did their own thing. In Jesus’ teaching God the King tells the sheep that he knows them because, “I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, NASB95. See Matthew 25:31-46)
It is easy to see the obvious. There are many tangible opportunities to care for the hungry, thirsty, lost, sick and those in prison. Serving at the local homeless shelter or food pantry. Offering hospitality to someone you don’t know, perhaps even just a ride to the next town. Visiting and spending time with those sick, shut-in, or in prison. There are thousands of ways to fulfill Jesus’ words in concrete ways.
Through Rick, God opened up a whole new way of thinking about these verses. A spiritual way of doing the exact same things. Every day in our work, eat, sleep, and play worlds there are people that are spiritually hungry, thirsty, lost, sick, and in prison.
Did you ever consider that a smile, a kind word, or a caring question could unlock someone’s prison cell? They do. Or that someone can be emotionally ill, perhaps silently shouting their pain through their actions? Our inclination is to run away and avoid them, we might just catch their nasty disposition. What if we visited them by connecting with them in some way? Perhaps looking past the outside to get the heart of where they are sick. Another could be lost and not even know it. We may not be able to get them spiritually home but can we open our hearts to them in welcome anyway? How many ways can we lay out the banquet of God’s truth, love, and grace for those hungry and thirsty for Him? Perhaps they don’t even know what would satisfy them, but we do.
To do this, we must expand our definition of what it means to be hungry, thirsty, naked, lost, sick and in prison. Someone can be locked behind the prison doors of hopelessness or circumstances. A smile, a touch, a kind word, a soft prayer reaches through those bars and reminds them that there is more to life than the prison cell they’re in. In the same way clothing, someone may be covering their shame with the love and righteousness of Christ.
Not only do we need to physically do these things as God gives us the opportunity but we also need to them in a spiritual sense. You may not be able to visit someone in prison, but you can visit those locked in the spiritual prisons of self, anger, pain, and heartache every day.