I was reading Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus is giving the talk about, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me,” and on the opposite side, “Whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Mt 25:40, 45) In this scripture, Jesus equates those who helped with the sheep and those who did not with the goats. So I began thinking about the current COVID-19 pandemic and all of the social repercussions it has had on our society. Having lived in Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, and now Texas, I’ve been trying to keep an eye on how each state where I have resided has responded to the pandemic and how the people in each of those states are responding to the various governmental restrictions or decrees.
On my social media pages, I have a wide range of people with various political views, religious beliefs, nationalities, races, ethnicities, and social statuses. I have seen a wide array of posts placing the blame for what is happening in our country and worldwide on every person or group imaginable. I have seen the people who are calling for complete shutdowns of every facet of society, those who are claiming that this pandemic is a hoax, and multiple viewpoints in between.
Now, I’m not here to say what I think the answer is. To be quite honest, I don’t know what the answer is. No one knows what the complete answer is. No one can truly know the outcome of any of the paths that we choose. Sure, we can make educated guesses based on pandemics or various illnesses and economic information from the past, but that is not a guarantee of how this will be and how this will turn out.
Matthew 25, in my opinion, is all about caring for one another. It is not about grand gestures but the small ways in which we can help each other. It doesn’t put a value on any of these actions or say that any of them are ranked higher than the other. It just talks about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, and taking care of the sick. Given light of recent events, I think we need to look at not only what the words say but the implications and expectations of what we are to do as humans. Feeding the hungry doesn’t just mean those who are physically hungry from lack of food. It means those who are spiritually hungry. Those who are hungry for physical touch or hugs. The sick are those with mental illnesses or addictions who might just need an ear or someone to reach out to check in on them. Showing care to the small business owners who are struggling to keep food on the table, fill their prescriptions, and keep themselves warm. Caring for those who are in abusive households or relationships and those who are unable to feel safe at home for fear of family finding out who they are.
With this reading of Matthew, it gives me even more pause as to what the “right” thing is to do, even though in these circumstances I doubt there is such a thing. We need to care for ourselves, our families, our communities, and society. That is a big task. It is an overwhelming task. How do we care for those in our society who are more susceptible to this virus while caring for those who are struggling due to the various parts of society that are shut down? How do we keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy while straddling the line between our need for physical distancing and economic security? Our need to get prescriptions filled or the need to get food for ourselves and our families?
When this all first began, I remember hearing that people needed to be prepared with a few weeks’ worth of food just in case it was needed. My thoughts immediately went to, “What about those who live paycheck to paycheck who struggle to make sure there is food on the table each week? How will they get by?” I thought of the students where schools are a place of refuge. People who need community and physical interaction to survive. How do we care for them? How do I care for them? Yes, we have unemployment and other benefits to help offset the cost of food and housing and new technology to help bridge some of the gaps created by physical distancing. But what about those who are still stuck at home in abusive environments?
I think the most discouraging thing is that we are so polarized that even if we could do something, we wouldn’t. We can’t. We’re too afraid to let someone else have the power. We’re too afraid that our liberties will be taken away. We’re too busy blaming others for not responding enough or responding too much. What does that help? How does that help? Matthew 25 tells us to respond with care. Matthew 25, in my interpretation, can be a charge to help. Matthew 25 separates those who are caring and helping and those who are not. Notice in there that it does not say that humankind will be the judge of who is helping and who is caring and who is not. That’s not our place. That’s definitely not my place to say. I know that I see people creating masks, donating supplies, working overtime, trying to keep teaching from home, giving concerts through social media, and so much more.
I honestly believe that we are all trying to do good in this situation. No matter where you are coming from. Those who want to open everything back up seem to want to help those businesses who are hurting. Those who want to keep everything shut down seem to want to help those who are more susceptible to the virus. Are we able to find common ground on that? Are we able to put aside our preconceived notions of what those who disagree with us think and how they’re acting? Are we able to set aside emotions that are flaring through all of this? I know that some people can’t and that’s okay too. We all respond differently. We all want to help. But at the end of the day, I know that I don’t want to be a goat. Do you?