Perhaps it was a matter of personal conjecture, but, to the perceptive mind of Keith Proctor, it appeared that, lately, a spirit of discouragement had surrounded George Barker. For a moment, Keith found his thoughts wandering from the words that Pastor Harvey Bernatti was speaking in exhortation to the flock. George had often appeared to be preoccupied lately, and the spiritual fervor, which had so long been his trademark, seemed to have waned. Keith made a mental note to discuss the matter with his wife, June, before they retired tonight.
“For I was sick, and you visited me”... the voice of Pastor Harvey, reading his text from Matthew’s Gospel, drew Keith back to the reality of the present. He felt a quickening in his spirit as the Pastor expounded on the necessity for the believers to invest time and effort in the lives of those who are physically, as well as spiritually weak. Had it not been for the patient, faithful ministry of people like George Barker and Pastor Harvey, Keith shuddered to think of where his marriage would be today. The thought caused his right hand to tighten around June’s shoulder as he sat with his arm comfortably draped around her on the back of the pew. June stirred slightly at his touch, and nestled closer in his embrace as they continued to drink-in the refreshing water of the word.
Keith guided the automobile into the parking lot at the Three-D Restaurant on Regent Avenue, wondering whom they would meet today. It was customary for a few members of the congregation to take pleasure in a leisurely Sunday lunch - enjoying each other’s fellowship, and discussing the needs of the Body of Christ.
“It looks like George is here anyway,” June’s excited voice caused Keith to follow her gaze until he recognized the aging Ford Escort parked not far from the front entrance. Keith breathed a silent prayer for wisdom as he parked the car in the adjacent parking stall. When they entered the front door, Keith met George’s gaze and nodded in silent recognition. He followed a few paces behind June as she excitedly made her way to join George at his table.
“Where’s everyone else?” June’s exuberance was evident as she approached George at the table.
Keith sensed uneasiness in George’s demeanor as he hesitantly replied – “I guess it’s just the two of you and me today!” It almost seemed to be a relief to George to realize that their fellowship would be restricted to the three of them. The waitress brought their orders and they bowed for a moment of thanksgiving before hungrily attacking what was placed before them.
“How much do you guys know about Alzheimer’s Disease?” George blurted out after finishing his second cup of coffee. June’s eyes grew wide, and Keith almost choked on the mouthful of coffee that he had just taken. It was a shocking turn to the otherwise silent communion and their minds swirled as they tried to grasp the significance of George’s question.
Was he saying...? Keith’s mind refused to complete the question. He glanced quickly at June, and, seeing that her eyes glistened with tears, knew that she had come to the same conclusion. “Not much...” he mumbled, “why do you ask?”
George detected the panic in their expressions, and was instantly sorry for the abruptness of the question. “Don’t worry, it’s not for myself!” he assured them, “I’m a little young to be in any danger of that!” Both June and Keith breathed sighs of relief, then chuckled as the realization of their hasty conclusions permeated their consciousness. George went on to explain the recent diagnosis reached with regards to his aging mother. They were aware of the special relationship that existed between George and his mother. Having suffered the loss of her husband a few years after their marriage, George’s mother had never remarried, and had raised her son on her own efforts.
They listened painfully as George related the experiences of witnessing his mother’s progression through the various stages of the debilitating disease. Now, it seemed that the only solution offered by the ‘experts’ was to confine his mother to a personal care home where she could receive 24-hour personal attention. He explained the feelings of guilt over having to leave his mother in the care of strangers, but the viability of any other options was almost non-existent.
Trying to offer the much-needed support to the grieving brother, June found herself assuring George that ‘they understood his grief’, and that ‘if he ever needed to talk, just to give them a call’. Even to June’s mind, the statement almost seemed ‘trite’.
“Thank-you”, George responded, clearly struggling with his emotions, “you don’t know how much that means to me.”
Two years had passed since George had shared his trepidation and fears with the Proctors. There had been times when the grief in George’s eyes was almost too painful to witness. Still, they felt the obligation to visit the aging Mrs. Barker at least once every week. The time spent during each visit, just trying to remind her who they were often caused June to weep openly in sympathy for the family’s pain. The prayers of the saints had, over time, shifted from “Let this cup pass...” to “nevertheless, not our will but Thine be done...”
It shouldn’t have been such a shock, June puzzled, when Pastor Harvey had called that morning to inform them of Mrs. Barker’s passing. She wondered, almost remorseful, at the sense of relief that she felt as she had dialed Keith’s office number to pass on the dreaded, but inevitable news. As they sat in the solemnity of the memorial service now, wondering if there was anything more they could have done, June’s eye caught the significance of the inscription on the program sheet. Along with a note of gratitude to the Body for their practical and emotional support to the family was the declaration: “ Then shall the King say ... I was sick, and you visited me...”
Nobody ever said that the Christian life would be easy, in fact, for the most part, many would agree that in their experience it has been ‘anything but’. One of the most dreaded parts of that experience for many in the Kingdom includes the ministry of visiting the sick, or weak. Many would concur that, when we speak of sickness, it is not necessarily the physical body that is indicated. Certainly, those with any amount of experience in life can identify times when they have also witnessed, if not experienced, spiritual and emotional sickness.
Whatever category of “weakness” may confront us, it is common to feel a sense of repulsion at the situation. Many can relate to the uneasiness that one experiences in the presence of such a scenario. After all, if we are really Jesus’ disciples, shouldn’t we be able to ‘heal the sick’ as He said we would be able to? We may even be faced with the question of who is lacking faith – is it the victim, or does the deficiency lie in our own lives? Or, possibly we are struggling with the question that faced the disciples of Jesus as they were confronted with the blind man – ‘Lord, who sinned, this man, or his parents?’ Because of the ramifications of the possible answers to such soul-searching questions, many disciples opt for the solution of avoidance. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ the old proverb dictates, if we can avoid witnessing the problem, we won’t have to think on it. Additionally, the enemy won’t have any basis for his condemnation as to the level of our faith.
We would do well to remind ourselves in such situations that the Master in Jesus parable didn’t commend the faithful on the basis of ‘I was sick, and you ministered complete healing to me.’ Rather, the recognition was based merely on the fact that the dedicated servants were available to periodically ‘look in on’ or ‘check on the welfare of’ the afflicted. Many who have for themselves, or for close friends or relatives, suffered the indignity of any prolonged, debilitating weakness can attest to the reticence of even the most well-meaning saints to maintain a schedule of consistent visitation. For the most part, such duties are usually relegated to the pastor of the flock. After all, that’s what he is getting paid for, isn’t it? When, at the end of time, the Master commends the faithful with the benediction – I was sick and you visited Me... I am sure that He will be addressing more than ordained members of the clergy. Similarly, when the pronouncement is made to the negligent, no one will be able to use the excuse – but Lord, I thought that was the pastor’s job!
Undoubtedly, it will necessitate moving out of our comfort zone in order for us to effect this portion of our ministry. More importantly, it will require an investment of our time and effort, but no one can deny that Jesus indicated that such an investment would yield valuable eternal returns.
If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW
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Amen. Well said, Brother. I can relate to the feelings of the pastor you described as I watched my great grandmother survive with the same dreaded disease some 25+ years, as it slowly, slowly, slowly robbed her of her memory and her family of much joy. What would one have said to me when she called me by my deceased grandmother's name? What would they minister to my pain? It doesn't matter. All that mattered was having someone there. But nobody was there. So, I can use that. I can be there for someone else. I can just be there... compassionate. I can "visit the sick," in His Name. If they're healed, great. If they aren't, so be it. Nevertheless, I have to be there. Thanks for the gracious reminder.