Don’t Know How to Help? Try Visiting

It had been a difficult few days. A loved one was drowning in pain and I didn’t know how to help. So I put on my sneakers and went outside. Walking helps me focus my thoughts and it is my favorite time to listen to scriptures.

I picked up where I left off that morning in Matthew 25 where Jesus is talking about the Last Judgment. He describes how he will separate the righteous (whom he calls sheep) from the rest (whom he calls goats). He will praise the sheep for how they have served him by serving others. “As you did to one of my least brothers, you did to me,” he says (25:40).

how to help

I’ve heard this story many times and thought about it. But as I was walking up a particularly steep hill just outside my neighborhood, I noticed a pattern I had never seen before in the specific behaviors Jesus identified in verses 35 and 36:

‘Cause I was hungry and you fed me
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink
I was a stranger and you welcomed me
I was naked and you clothed me
I was sick and you visited me
I was in prison and you came to me.

Here Jesus identifies six scenarios in which we face a problem. In all but two of these he implies that it involves loving others fixing the problem:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Welcome the stranger
  • Clothe the naked

These are all very practical, tangible, and important ways we can serve others. They generally ask little of us, and we tend to feel good about helping in this way. But what about the last two scenarios? I stopped halfway up the hill to rewind my audio and listen again.

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No quick fix

For the sick and imprisoned, Jesus is not suggesting that we should try to heal them or get them out of prison, which could be a direct way to address these issues. Of course, it is probably not in our power to grant healing or release from prison. But Jesus shows that we can serve the person even if we cannot solve the problem directly.

Even if we cannot solve the problem directly, we can still serve the person. We should visit them.

We are supposed to visit them, take care of them, or take care of them, depending on the translation. All three of these definitions are actually included in the context of the original language. The Greek word is episceptoma and refers to visiting someone, assessing their well-being, and meeting their needs. This word occurs eleven times in the New Testament.

Of these mentions, I was surprised to find that almost half are related to something that God is doing for us. For example, at Hebrews 2:6 we read: “Somewhere it has been testified: ‘What is man that you think of him, or the son of man whom you care for? [episkeptomai] him?’” And Luke 1:68 says: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited us [episkeptomai] and redeemed his people.”

This is something the Lord does for us and then invites us to do for others. It’s something we can do out of love and worship of our God because he first loved us.

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go deeper

If we’re being honest, visiting and caring for the sick and incarcerated can be more difficult than trying to fix any of the other scenarios mentioned. It requires more time and attention and can be complicated and impractical. No wonder the sick and incarcerated tend to be lonely.

Yet that is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do – to visit them, to spend time with them, and even to know their pain. It goes deeper than the stereotypical quick fix to understand their needs and, if necessary, find ways to address them. It means putting listening before doing.

I experienced first hand the benefits of a visit when a member of our family was dealing with a difficult mental health challenge that no amount of food, drink or clothing could cure. At first it seemed like most people avoided us, maybe because they didn’t know how to help us. But then, at a crucial moment, a person stopped by our house.

“I brought you some cookies,” she began, stammering a bit as if unsure how to proceed. But, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, she looked deeply into my tear-filled eyes and then hugged me episceptoma. She listened as I poured out my worries and fears and bonded in my pain. Her compassionate presence regularly helped me recharge my weary soul in the weeks and months that followed, all the while pointing me to Jesus, the ultimate healer.

Her compassionate presence regularly helped recharge my weary soul while pointing me to Jesus, the ultimate healer.

God sent his Son to visit us, to know our pain and to meet our greatest need. And he invites us into one of the most influential Kingdom-centered works we can do episceptoma each other.

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Visiting others isn’t easy, and it’s definitely not quick. But it is an opportunity to wrap “the least” in God’s love when sickness or imprisonment threaten isolation. When we serve others by visiting them, we may not solve all of their problems, but we can share our Savior’s love.

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