When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Last Spring, I took my car to the shop to get new brake pads. After a very quick glance at my car, the mechanic came over to me with an urgent report:
"You need new tires, man. Your back ones have so little tread left on them, you're driving on slicks."
At the time, I was more preoccupied with paying for the brake pads, so I didn't think much about it.
Flash forward a few months to a few weeks ago, as I'm driving home from work. About 3/4 of the way through the drive, it started raining. I didn't think much of it, and continued driving down the highway.
I didn't see the puddle until I had already hit it.
In Matthew 25, Jesus is telling a long string of parables when He gets to The Sheep & The Goats in verse 35. As Jesus is describing the righteous people (the sheep), He does something interesting: He lists things that people do when they've gotten it right. In essence, He's describing a microcosm of The Kingdom, and He lists six things:
1. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat
2. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
3. I was a stranger and you invited me in
4. I needed clothes and you clothed me
5. I was sick and you looked after me
6. I was in prison and you visited me
Now, of these six, three are commonly accepted as basic needs: food, water, and shelter (clothing.) But the other three, an entire half of the things Jesus deems important enough to include in His description, are community.
Inviting the stranger in. Visiting the prisoner. And maybe the most interesting: taking care of the sick person.
I've been driving for a full decade now, so I can tell you what you're supposed to do if you lose control of your car: steer into the skid and don't try to slam to a stop.
'You don't have to stop the car,' the logic goes. 'You just need it to slow down enough to regain control.' If you had asked me, at any given moment, I would have told you that I believed those to be the correct responses.
The very worst thing you can do, of course, is to fight against the car: trying to steer back the other way and slamming on the breaks as hard as you can.
But despite this knowledge, and despite what I would have told you was the safest course of action, my instincts were the opposite: I slammed on the brakes with my whole weight, and I gripped the wheel as hard as I could and tried to steer back the other way.
The result was inevitable: my brakes locked up and my car got even more out of control. I started in the left-most lane of a three lane highway, and swerved across all three before swerving back across them all and heading straight for the wall that separated the road from the median.
What Jesus seems to be saying with the sheep and the goats is that the folks that get it right faith-wise also get it right action-wise. He's not advocating for works-based salvation, He's talking about a better definition of faith: Your beliefs are the things you're willing to act on.
Now that's an entire blog post on it's own, but it's not the point of this one. For now, I want to draw your attention to this: He's saying that true Kingdom community involves taking care of each other, even in our worst times. (Tweet)
When we're getting it right, we're willing to take care of each other when we're hungry, when we're tired, when we need shelter. Even more impressively: if we're living with a Kingdom mindset, we're willing to extend grace when worldly values say it's not deserved (like visiting someone in prison.) We're willing to invite in strangers even though it makes us uncomfortable and we don't know much about them. And we're willing to take care of those who are sick, which includes those wrestling with their mental health.
But, as Jesus commonly does, He takes it further and mixes it up.
I spend a lot of time talking about asking for help. Honestly, if I made a list of things I'd written the most across all my writing and social media, I'd say the following phrase would be high on the list:
"Please ask for help when you need it."
But just like I could've told you I knew and believed the correct responses to losing control of my car, when push comes to shove I find my instincts to be something entirely different.
When I lost control of my car that day, I gripped the wheel as hard as I could and fought to take my car back the other way. I slammed my foot down as hard as I could and tried through sheer willpower and strength to get everything under control.
But it didn't work, and I ended up headed straight for the wall.
Here's the thing: despite my closest-held beliefs that in our moments of hurting and pain we need to ask for help, my natural instinct is still something entirely different. I still find myself believing that if I grab tight with both hands and fight for control, that I can get this thing back on track. If I just put all my weight into it, give it everything I've got, I can get back to safety and keep on going where I was trying to get in the first place.
But that's not reality. My car is built with ABS and other functions to help protect me. If I'm willing to loosen my hands and stop fighting the steering wheel, the car is more likely to correct it's own path. There are things surrounding me that are there specifically to help me when I lose control.
In the parable here, Jesus says the following:
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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
This is where He does the unexpected: Jesus intentionally places Himself in the place of the person in need, the one accepting help.
What I find fascinating about this is that because He's describing the righteous people, the following is true: when you help other people in their time of pain and need, you are becoming more like Jesus.
But because He's also identifying with the down-and-out, the prisoner, and the sick, the following is also true: When you accept help from the people around you, you are also becoming more like Jesus. (Tweet)
This is huge for us, because so often our reaction is that we need to be the ones giving and taking care of other people. But you can't give what you don't have, and there are times when our best course of option, our only course of action to be healthy and whole, is to ask for help from the people around us.
Because just like I did that day, we're all going to hit rainstorms and puddles. It's just the way life goes: sometimes we lose control. And if we don't let the things and people surrounding us do what they're designed for and help us, if instead we fight with all our strength and believe we can do it all on our own through sheer force of will, we so often end up headed straight for the wall.
And the thing about the wall is this: it can kill you.
I know I've ventured pretty far into extended-metaphor land, but the wall very genuinely can kill you.
My storm and puddles come in the form of depression, and my wall comes in the form of suicide attempts. For years and years, I've found myself white-knuckled and heavy-footed, fighting to fix it myself, and headed straight towards disaster.
That day in my car, I was lucky enough to avoid hitting the wall. In my life, I've hit it several times. I've slammed into it and wanted nothing more than to leave this planet behind and I've tried.
But I'm still here, and I'm learning to hold my pain with loose hands.
I'm learning that leaning all my weight and force into a problem doesn't make it less painful and it doesn't make it solvable. I'm learning to let the people around me help me get back where I need to be, back to safety, back under control.
It's ok to need other people to help you carry your heavy days. That's why God put them there. (Tweet)
Just take a deep breath, hold your pain with loose hands, and repeat after Jesus:
'I was sick and you took care of me.'