Matthew 25:35-40 English Standard Version (ESV)
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’
These verses of Matthew have absolutely transfixed me this week. My mind has been ruminating on them, reading them over and over, journaling on them, each time seeing something new and spectacular in it. God is so awesome!
This past weekend, my husband and I determined we would not attend our church. We (particularly, I) have been feely uneasy about a number of the way things are done at church, the tone of the church, and this past week, the image of the pastor. I will not go into any further detail but this background leads to how God opened my eyes to this particular passage of Scripture. Let me lay out the cause and effect relationships in this passage, in the way in which it helped me to see all that God is saying here.
I was hungry you gave me food
I was thirsty you gave me drink
I was a stranger you welcomed me
I was naked you clothed me
I was sick you visited me
I was in prison you came to me
In Matthew 25, Jesus is speaking to his sheep, explaining what it will be like, when He welcomes them into Heaven. If you look at the words in column 1, you see that Jesus is describing the various emotional and physical states of despair that he experienced on Earth. Column 2 shows how the sheep before Him treated Him, when He appeared before them in this state. Jesus recounted moments of despair, states which He himself, as man, could not fix alone. However, THROUGH LOVING HOSPITALITY, various people He encountered, provided Him with what He needed in each situation. They provided it not out of obligation (law) but out of love (grace).
Reading further, you see that the sheep to whom He is speaking, did not recognize Jesus when they committed these acts of love. Jesus educates them that it was not necessarily, He, in the flesh, that came to them, but fellow Christians, who by the Grace of God, carry the Holy Spirit within them. The sheep showed love to them, treating them as Jesus would have treated all his sheep in need. They acted out of love, not law.
This passage suggests to me that Jesus is modelling all the ways in which we need to love our fellow Christians, and people in need, in order to be more Christlike. Hebrews 1:14 confirms this idea “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”
Looking at column 2, Jesus shows us six ways in which we need to show hospitality, through the loving promptings of the Holy Spirit. Jesus does not make this task overwhelming. Instead, He gives us the Holy Spirit, as well as six different ways to help. Each one requires a different amount of time, effort, and stepping beyond our comfort
zone, than the other. Giving someone something to eat or drink should not be a stretch for anyone. It is something we all do every day – we eat, we drink, and as adults, we provide those things for our family and friends. Welcoming someone into your home or your community, takes hospitality to a slightly more challenging level – welcoming suggests, trusting, and bringing someone (perhaps a stranger) into your comfort zone. It requires dropping your guard; it requires sharing of yourself; it requires more of your time and your personal space. That said, it is still a fairly safe place. If I look at these three requirements of myself, as a Christian, I would have to say “Easy peasy lemon squeezy” – (as my friend’s four-year old loves to say!)
Clothing the naked is also not exceptionally hard for me, as long as I stay in my comfort zone. I am happy to share clothes my son has grown out of, with friends or the Thrift Store. I am happy to lend clothes to people I know that need something they will only use once or twice. What would be harder for me, would be going beyond my comfort zone…heading out into “the trenches”, down to the Downtown Eastside, to share clothes.
I am also very uncomfortable visiting the sick. Wow! That sounds harsh when you put it in words! I am happy to call, email or text to ask how someone is. I’m happy to drop a meal off at the door, or pick up the kids, but I would avoid actually getting anywhere near the sick person, for fear of getting sick myself, or worse still, my son getting sick. This makes me think of a number of Bible stories, as well as contemporary situations, where sick people are shunned, sent away, forgotten.
Finally, going to visit someone in prison, is WAY outside my comfort zone. That said, this week, with my Spiritual Director, we worked at reframing my view of a prison visit…to seeing prisoners as Jesus would see them – scared, defensive, and really lacking love. He wouldn’t judge. He would listen and love. Looking at it that way, and knowing that were I to visit a women’s prison, I would be perfectly safe. Knowing that if they started to be verbally abusive, it would not be a personal attack. It would be a form of self-protection, of survival, and a fierce desire to be heard and to be loved. This really started to change the way I looked at this “requirement”. The Holy Spirit, at work again!
There are a lot of forgotten people on the streets of the Downtown Eastside. There are a lot of forgotten people in prison, and indeed in many other places. Does my Christian heart want to go and see these people. Jesus did. Jesus did all of the above which suggests to me that to be a true Christian, to be like Him, I too need to go and love people in their prisons (be that poverty, drug addiction, jail). I need to go to a place that seems like prison to me – dark, hopeless, dangerous, frightening. Does this mean I need to put my life in danger? I think not. We are called to carry a Cross. I think that Cross is different for us all. For me, the last offering of hospitality in Matthew 25:35-40, going somewhere “dangerous” is leaving my comfort zone. For others it may be feeding people, for others having strangers into their home.
Jesus speaks to us all differently, requires different things of us all…but that said, I believe that this list (as expressed in column 2) is a list of ways to be like Jesus – He came and modelled how you could accomplish these feats. That said, we are sinful, fallen creatures and will in no way be able to feed and clothe the poor as Jesus did. However, in this“must-do” list, there is room for personalizing the list. As I said, the first four are easy for me – they do not require any effort. They are what I do. So, Jesus challenges me with the other three.
God will meet you where you are and will provide all the tools you need to complete His will for your life. What is God asking you to do that is beyond your comfort zone? That’s where you need to be pushing yourself.
Next time…what else does this passage teach us?