Recently, I read a story on my online newspaper about one of my favorite NBA basketball players – Karl-Anthony Towns, who has been playing center for several years for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since I don’t live near Minnesota, I hadn’t heard that he had lost seven family members to COVID. At one point early on this Spring both his parents had come down with it. His mom was in a medically-induced coma – and it looked like she was going to come out of that coma – but she had a stroke and suddenly died. His dad was able to recover, and Karl-Anthony was so glad of that, but he was particularly close to his mama. He recently filmed a video where he was interviewed about his and his family’s very difficult experience with COVID these last eight months.
When Karl-Anthony was asked why he did the eighteen-minute video – in which through tears he tells viewers about his mother’s death and does so in great detail – Karl-Anthony explained that he didn’t want others who lost loved ones to COVID to feel like they are alone in their grief: “The video,” he said later, “came from a place of, I didn’t want people to feel lonely and as upset as I was. I made that video to protect others and keep others well-informed.” He wants others to take precautions because, as he said, “I had to admit that these things are real.”
One thing that characterized Christ’s ministry was His witness to others that there was a lot of pain going on out there, in His day; that it was all real. When Jesus got up to speak at his home synagogue, He spoke of His future ministry of reaching out to those who are hurting: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. The Spirit has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We often focus on Christ’s stated mission when we read these verses, but, you know, Jesus was also making sure people realized that there really were people who were poor…that there really were people who were in captivity to something…who were blind…and who really were oppressed. Sometimes we like to ignore these things, partly so that we can avoid the time and effort it takes to be a part of the struggle against these big problems. But Jesus led the disciples on a three-year journey fighting against these things, in order to spread God’s Kingdom of Love.
We are not Jesus. We are not sinless, as He was and is. Even so, in our struggles, we can help those who are ALSO struggling, as Karl-Anthony Towns is seeking to do. There are many things each of us can do – even while we are partly separated from one another during COVID – to not only help others, but lift up and protect others around us. You may ask, what can we do?
To answer that question, I want us to look to when Jesus once told a famous parable in Jerusalem – our “Boost from the Bible” today – near the end of His earthly life. In Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells the parable of the “Son of Man” informing those who have been welcomed at “His right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you…for I was hungry, and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed Me; I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me….[For] just as you did [these things] to one of the least of My family, you did it to Me.” Now that’s a list of people with various needs – a good solid list – but there’s many more needs and many more ways we can help people. We can even take this list and see the spiritual side of each of these six things. Let me explain what I mean by “spiritual side.”
You see, Jesus sometimes emphasized the “spiritual side” of a problem. In the Sermon on the Plain Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor” – those who are physically poor, whom we should of course help. But then, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT” – which is an equally dire situation, because to be poor in spirit often describes individuals who can be so down on themselves that they hurt themselves or others…make really bad choices…or they fold in on themselves, unable to do any good for anybody. We can likewise apply this “spiritual side” principle, in this COVID time, to the six things Jesus said in the “least of these” parable that I just recited.
So, for instance, “I was hungry.” Our first priority, of course, is to get hungry people some physical food, but spiritually hungry people need to be presented with the fact that God loves them – spiritual food that strengthens weak knees and builds up loving hearts. Then there’s “I was thirsty,” and we are often “thirsty” for the kind of knowledge – both worldly and spiritual – that can make a difference in a person’s daily life. One gem of knowledge from the Bible I learned some years ago and has stuck with me is the difference between worldly happiness and spiritual joy. Worldly happiness comes and goes, but joy is a gift from the Spirit that is in us always, that we may rely upon it. I’ve often needed to let God remind me that even if I am currently in an unhappy state, I can still serve others, because I can still be joyful in my service to God. Unhappiness shouldn’t EVER stop me from helping others caught up in a need of some kind.
The next two in this list of six are being a stranger and being naked. Of course there are physical realities with both, but we can also feel spiritually naked and spiritually feel like a stranger in a strange place. Certainly we all feel like strangers in this strange Virus Land, but we can still call each other, write each other, post messages to each other, and in other ways be there for others without physical touch, just as they are there for us! On that note I have been grateful that this plague has hit us at a time when technology has given us many ways not only to talk but even to SEE each other! Can you imagine what this pandemic would have been like in the 1970s, for instance? We couldn’t even have had joint phone calls!
And how about feeling naked? Spiritually speaking one might say we feel naked to the elements nowadays – naked and vulnerable to the bad news all around us and sometimes the bad news even within our own family circle, wounding us many times. Karl-Anthony Towns, in sharing the details of his family’s struggle against COVID – and letting his emotions show – is letting many grieving people know that they are not alone in their feelings of loss – that they are not naked and alone in their feelings of abandonment and dejection – that there are many people out there going through the same things that he is going through. Karl-Anthony is showing men in particular that it is all right to cry and get those feelings out…feelings which might otherwise crush you.
The last two on our list involve “visiting” – visiting the sick and visiting those in prison. But how can you do that? As we all know, one of the most frustrating things about living these days is when someone is stuck in a hospital or rehab facility or at their home, sick, and you can’t even physically visit them or give them a hug. It makes someone who is sick or laid up – someone who, in normal times, would be able to see and touch others – feel MORE than sick or injured; it makes them feel like they have been sentenced to prison! But there are ways to break through and serve others in the Lord even in these circumstances. I’ll give you two examples.
First, you can step up your communications with others. It really lifts up people’s spirits when you not only call or text someone who is sick once a week; to call or text every day or every other day really shows how much you care. The other thing to do is prayer; to pray for others every day…even several times a day, is a way to really connect to others in need. You see, I am convinced God gives us the ability to feel that others are praying for us!
So remember, when we are physically hampered in helping people, we can always, through the power of the Spirit, be a spiritual help…an anchor…a caregiver…a prayer partner…a minister…to God’s children around us, made – like us – in the image and likeness of God. Go and help others using this “spiritual side” – giving aid in these spiritual ways – not worrying about how you do it or being afraid of saying the wrong thing. Your presence is the most important thing. Be there for the spiritually hungry and thirsty, the spiritually naked, those feeling spiritually like a stranger, and the spiritually sick, who feel imprisoned. Rely on the Spirit, and you will find that you can be there for today’s “least of these.” And you will find Christ, there, too!
Go to kogcarmel.org and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday. Archived worship services and boosts may be found at the bottom of King of Glory’s home page.