So I went out to the lawn in front of the church to see him, where people were gathered to receive the food that we were handing out, but I couldn’t see him right away.
He was there, and I was looking straight into his eyes from about 18 inches distance, but I couldn’t see him. Of course I could see his face, but I couldn’t see the person I had seen when I saw him last. An opaque grey film, like a death shroud, lay on the surface of his eyes.
But it was him, I reconized the face as his. He was in there, like a mad man at home, hiding in the back of the house, lurking insanely in the back closet, looking through the crack in the door, but not coming to answer the friendly knock.
His head weaved in an unstable, drunken way, and he staggered back a little from me.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
I put my hand on him to steady him and leaned in toward him trying to connect with him, trying to look into him, to see the man I had seen last time I had seen him at church. There was little of that now, mostly just thick fog, lying on the surface of his pupils, locking down his soul like a lid on a casket.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I can see that you’re in a lot of pain.”
“Oh, the pain,” he cried out, and reached out toward me with an open hand.
I knew this part of him; I’ve been in psychological, spiritual pain too.
“Oh,” he groaned in complete anguish. “I just came to see you today,” he said, “to get a little love. Because I knew you guys would give me a little love.”
I remembered when he had told me with such confidence a few months earlier, “I’m done. I’m done with the drinking.”
But he wasn’t done, drinking, self-medicating, trying to kill the pain, trying to kill himself just to kill the pain.
And so I gave him a little love, by sitting down with him on the retaining wall, by taking his hand, by praying for him, by telling him he could stop, again, and by telling him that we all loved him. I told him that I wanted to see him again.
“I can’t stop,” he said.
“You can stop,” I told him, “You’ve done it before.”
But I knew what he meant. For forty years he hasn’t been able to stop after he has stopped, again and again and again he hasn’t stopped.
Then, in totally anguish he looked at me and said, “I know that Jesus loves me.”
I knew him then, because he was so much like me, a residing faith all mixed with brain numbing pain. There was the faith, the real faith, leaking out from behind the opaque eyes, hovering in front of us on the lawn, his faith and mine, the faith that makes us brothers, that has always bonded us together as brothers, two incompletely healed men in front of each other, both in need of Jesus.
“Yes, Jesus does love you,” I said. “You’ve told me this before, and I believe that it is true. He loves you, even when you are like this.”
He left after a while — to go get another beer, which begs the question: What to do?
In Matthw 25 we find the following teaching of Jesus:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 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. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “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. 35 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, 36 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.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “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.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Jesus told his followers that when they saw the sick and broken and needy, that they saw him. It is interesting that he didn’t say that when they saw the good, the strong and the successful that they saw him.
Jesus’s words about needy people are actually quite unsettling. Jesus said that those who do not care for the lonely, sick, hungry and incarcerated, will not be invited into the kingdom, but instead will be punished. He didn’t teach that we had to fix them, but he did make it clear that we were to care for them.
This is kind of sobering to me, the implications of what Jesus taught, the teaching that we will not be judged, as we are so often taught in our safe, intellectualized, sanitized Christian churches, by our faith alone, but that we will be judged by whether or not our faith caused us to love and care for sick, hungry, cold, imprisoned, lonely people of the earth, regardless of whether they changed or not.
Jesus taught that if we love him, then we will love people,and that if we do not love them, he will not recognize us as his own in the final judgment. That’s unsettling too.
I know a lot of very spiritual people. I try to be one myself, God-following, praying, helping people in a good way, but Jesus actually taught that some powerfully spiritual people, who do great acts of spirituality in his name, will not be a part of his kingdom.
Look at Matthew 7: 21.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
They knew him. They claimed him. They did great things in his name. That will not be disputed. They will tell you that. Jesus will buy that, “They knew me,” he will say sadly; then he will add, “but I didn’t know them.”
What will make that true? It will be, I believe, because as these mighty ones lived out their lives, they didn’t do the will of God which is to love people the way Jesus commanded them to, and so they were very clearly not of his kind.
Jesus doesn’t know those who claim him but don’t know love. He doesn’t know them because they refuse to love and because they refused to let Jesus know them and love them. We all are at risk, I think, in this way. We do this, remain unknown to Jesus, so to speak, whenever we do not admit our brokenness, our weakness, our loneliness, our addictive habits, our spiritual famine. And when we do this, when we act like we are okay, when we aren’t okay, this has terrible consequences.
Not knowing the weakness in ourselves, we don’t know the weak in our communities, and so we don’t welcome the weak or care for them and in doing this we don’t welcome Jesus and so we don’t know him! Crazy, fascinating, the mistake, this train of mistakes, beginning in ourselves and following on in tragic fashion to our community and to God.
To deny our own humanity, our own broken, impoverished, addicted, imprisoned selves, causes us to also separate from those like this in our community, and this distances us from God.
“I never knew you,” cries Jesus, “because you hid from me behind the reinforced gates and walls of wealth and accomplishment and self-interest. You denied your pain, and you hid from the pain of the world, and in doing so you hid from me, and I couldn’t find you to know you!”
Jesus does not know us when we do not know the drunk man staggering up to the church door. He does not know us when we do not know the hungry family living three blocks away from the church. He does not know us, when we do not go sit with the old woman, living alone, and eating dinner at night alone and wondering why she is still alive. Jesus does not know us when we do not know the child who is absent a parent, or both parents or a grandma, the inadequately loved, hurting, at risk child in our neighborhood, school or church.
We may cross the globe on a well-financed and well-intentioned mission of mercy to bring the truth to people in another country, we may minister powerfully in our church by leading worship or teaching classes or sitting on boards or praying for the weak, and yet if we will not even cross the streets and sidewalks in our own cities and commuities to know the people living in need in our own backyards, we may find it someday said by God himself, “I don’t know you.”
Jesus does not know us when we hide from him by hiding from our own hopeless, hurting, needy flesh and blood lying sprawled out on the church lawn drunk.
Flat out: Jesus doesn’t know the indifferent, the selfish and the uninvolved in all of us.
His love can forgive even our lack of love, but Jesus himself warned us very strongly about this matter.
We must cry out for mercy and help in this business of loving people. The best cry we can make to Jesus is, “Know me! Know every weak, hungry, addicted, broken, imprisoned, naked, drunken part of me.”
And when see the other fallen and broken creatures of the world, the best thing that we can cry out to them is, “I know you! I know you because you are me! And I know you because you are Christ to me.”
‘I tell you the truth,” said Jesus, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Matthew 25:45
What should we do? We should know them!