In the early church, nursing of the sick accorded a place of honor and respect. Jesus’ ministry was largely devoted to the caring and healing of the sick (Matthew 9:35). Christ gave individual attention, touching, anointing and taking the hand. Jesus’ teaching on the importance of caring for the sick and afflicted is reflected especially in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-27).
I have the privilege of caring for the elderly, the infirm, the weak among us, and I want to follow Christ’s example. What are God’s instructions for us regarding the sick and needy, whether it is our spouse, our neighbor, or a brother or sister in Christ? Is it our responsibility to care for others? I discovered that Jesus has quite a lot to say about it.
In answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a parable:
“A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here’” (Luke 10:30-35, NLT).
Having told the story, Jesus now answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” through asking a question of His own:
“‘Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’ Jesus asked. The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same’” (verses 36-37).
He not only took care of his wounds, but he also transported him on his own beast, so he had to walk. Then he took him to inn and stayed up all night caring for the man, and then felt the responsibility to pay for his care. We learn from this parable that being a good neighbor is not determined by who lives near us or who shares our culture and religion, but by how we behave. We learn also the type of behavior expected of us by God. See Matthew 25:35-46.
Talking of the shepherds of Israel, God is not happy with their treatment of His flock. Listen to his incriminating words:
“You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost” (Ezekiel 34:4, NIV).
Then we hear what is important to God—His great love for His sheep:
“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (verses 15-16).
The following scriptures underscore the importance of caring for the sick, afflicted, and needy…
Isaiah 40:11: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (NIV).
Job 3:25-26: “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came” (KJV).
James 2:14-16: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? … If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (NKJV).
1 John 3:17-18: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (NKJV).
1 Thessalonians 5:12-14: “Moreover, brothers, we exhort you to visit the elderly people among you. We also admonish you, in the Lord, indeed to take care of your own [aged] people, and to hold them richly in regard, in love. Because of their [earlier] work, let them [now] have rest among you. Moreover, we summon you, brothers: Warn those who are not working. Support those who are weak. Sustain the sickly” (author’s translation).
The unabridged Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott is a bit better alternative:
• Eidenai (oida or eidô) [1 Thessalonians 5:12] had many meanings, such as “to see,” “to behold,” “to pay attention to,” “to visit.” Paul wrote, eidenai tous kopiôntas en humin, “visit those among you who are getting tired” – that is, “take care of the elderly people among you, those who are not able to work any longer.”
• Kopiôntas (kopiaô) [also verse 12] literally meant “to grow weary, tired, exhausted” [which is what elderly people often do; that is, their bodies become too weak for normal work].
• Proistamenous (proistêmi) [still verse 12] had several meanings; among those were also “to be a guardian of,” “to give aid,” “to support,” “to succor.”
Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (NIV).
Psalm 41:3: “The LORD sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness” (NIV).
Psalm 12:5: “‘Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the LORD. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them’” (NIV).