For the Least of These: The Way of Jesus in the Face of Pain

This post is part of an ongoing series on ministering to people in pain. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

In Matthew 25, we find a parable of Jesus about the final judgment. He describes the King separating his own (the sheep) from those doomed to judgment (the goats). As he invites the "sheep" into his Kingdom, their inheritance, he says this, "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." They are clearly confused. When had they done this? And the King replies, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Here we see Jesus' expectations clearly expressed: His disciples, those who follow Him and have surrendered their lives to Him, will naturally bear the fruit of compassion. We see this in his parables - and in an observation of His life. In His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly reaches with compassion into places of physical and emotional pain, loss of dignity, shame, vulnerability, and desperation. He stops and sees, he listens, he loves, he responds.

I believe our response of compassion applies to those who are emotionally vulnerable, just as it applies to those who are physically vulnerable in the parable above. It isn't hard to find pain in our world - the pain of loss or violence, of broken relationships, broken bodies, broken minds, of exploitation or injustice, of shattered dreams or distorted self-image. Pain's faces are no strangers to us.

When our lives intersect with someone in the throes of pain, we can, as Jesus' disciples, follow His pattern. We stop, we see, we listen, we love, we respond. This has been the purpose of this series - to enable us to do this better.

To minister to those who are suffering is not relegated to the "professionals" or to specified days and times. This ministry is the whole-life, full time work of all Christians, as we model God's grace and become the hands and feet of Jesus to the suffering.

There may be times when this expression of compassion necessitates calling in the aid of someone who has further training and is better equipped to handle the situation. In situations when someone is at risk of harm (from someone or to themselves), it is important to refer them to the appropriate professionals or contact the appropriate authorities.

These referrals ensure the person receives the help they need - but it does not mean our work is finished. We do not disappear. We do not wash our hands of the situation. We remember that our ministry in friendship and community meets needs no paid professional can. Our steady support, concern, and compassion will continue to remain essential through the season of pain and its subsequent healing process.

As we come to the end of our series on ministering to people in pain, I remember the ones who ministered to me during my darkest days. I remember the people who became living, breathing examples of God’s gracious presence with me, who became His love in flesh. 

They let me sit in the bucket chair in the corner of their apartment while I did more staring blankly into space than studying. They let me just be with them, lending their presence, knowing I needed company more than words. 

They got me out of bed when I wanted to disappear into sleep. They walked with me to counseling sessions. They made sure I kept eating. They prayed with me, and for me, and fought for me when I was too weak. They listened as I told them the stories of the fearful silence in the darkness. 

They sat with me in our tiny church as tears pooled in my eyes, slipped down my cheeks, and when I reached the point the tears ran out. They listened with me to the message of grace, of the God who reached down into our brokenness, who suffered, who was making all things new. 

What if my pain had scared them? What if they left when I slipped further into depression and became much less than my best self? What if they complied when I pushed them away, instead of seeing my desperation? What if they’d washed their hands of me once I started seeing a “professional”? What if they’d looked at my tears and said, “Count it all joy”—or listened to my doubts and said, “You need to have more faith”? 

I thank God that this was not my lot. These precious friends stayed with me in the dark until the light slowly dawned again. They didn’t begrudge my tears—they wept over me. They didn’t let me give up—they pushed me to keep doing what I could, to see the ministry I had at my fingertips, even as I felt inadequate. These friends ministered God’s love to me then, and they remind me now of the ways God has been redeeming my pain for His glory. 

What a high calling we have received, my friends - to, as the Church, be the loudest embodiment of God's presence and mission in the world. Our love makes His love visible. May we have His vision to see the broken and bleeding of our world, and may we have His strength and grace to live up to the call to be His hands and feet in this world.