“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“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.’
- Matthew 25:37-40
“A friend next door was sick and I took him his meal. Once again I fed him, patiently and wordlessly, a spoonful at a time. His legs ached so much that he began to weep over the pain. … He did not eat much. Soon he said, ‘No more, thank you. I’m not hungry. I want to tell you how grateful I am.’
“’You don’t have to!’ I gave him a tight smile. ‘I understand, and, believe me, we’ve got to help each other.’
“’You see what happens,’ asked Chuck Griffith quietly, ‘when you let yourself be drawn into people’s lives? For the reward of being a good Samaritan, you get back grief.’
“’What you say is true,’ I conceded. ‘Where there is concern for another, there is also a risk, a risk that hurts.’”
- Abie Abraham, Oh, God, Where Are You?
For those who have not read yesterday’s post, Just Don’t Die, I am writing my thoughts this week regarding quotations from Abie Abraham’s book, quotes about his time as a prisoner of war in the Philippines, my memorial for Memorial Day.
The Scripture above mentions every condition of the poor man on his bamboo mat, a mat made of slit bamboo that cut into the skin, long before the Japanese provided cots for the prisoners. Although he protested that he was not hungry, he had withered to skin and bones. S/Sgt. Abraham concentrated on providing a blank face, so that the sick men that he helped would not see the concern in his eyes – the knowledge that if help did not come soon, the man on the bamboo mat would be dead. Along with hunger, there was thirst.
They were strangers in the POW camp, at least foreigners in a foreign land. But it goes beyond that. They did not know everyone at the camp at first – just fellow survivors of the Death March, many military units were represented at Camp O’Donnell. At one point, Abraham was transferred to another camp, knowing no one there.
They only had the clothes on their backs. That clothing became too large for them as they were all starving. They were prisoners of war, and everyone was sick. The condition of the sick man was not recorded, but Abraham mentioned dysentery and malaria a lot. He also mentioned dengue fever and tuberculosis.
Abraham himself had a breathing condition that delayed his eventual return to the US. He stayed in the Philippines for two and a half years after the other prisoners had gone home once liberated in 1944. For those extra years, his assignment was as the only member of the 609th Graves Registration. He found the bodies of those killed along the Death March, the assignment that gave him his nickname, the Ghost of Bataan. In all, he was in the Philippines roughly eight or nine years. Then he stayed in Hawaii on his way home until his lungs recovered from his many years in the jungle.
When Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats, he did not qualify the person helping the one who was needy. Abraham was almost as needy as the man on the mat. The only difference was that Abraham could get up and walk.
And what of us today? Many of our neighbors have their hands out. They may have more than we do, but does that matter? They think they are needy, but their only need, in some cases, is their desperate need for Life, the Life that only Jesus can provide. In providing a meal, we can talk about Jesus.
“The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift.”
- C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Our governmental social programs only provide enough for subsistence in substandard conditions, trapped in a total dependence upon the next government hand out. (The hand outs are enticing, but voters must beware.) The churches also give, but their gift is rarely enough so that the recipient no longer needs the gift. It is true that the often quoted “verse” from the Bible is not in the Bible at all. That “verse” being, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Yet, much of S/Sgt. Abraham’s helping in the POW camp was for naught. There was no medicine for the sick. There was little food, and that spoiled, for the prisoners to eat. The helped POW died in most cases, but Abraham had hope that they would be rescued sooner than they were. If the rescuers had only gotten there sooner, his efforts would have saved lives. I wrote about Seagulls or Quail a couple of weeks ago about Eddie Rickenbacker crash landing in the Pacific Ocean. One of his assigned duties was to deliver a top secret rebuke from the president to Gen. MacArthur. MacArthur made a promise to return to the Philippines, and those higher up were delaying that promise. MacArthur wanted to return immediately, not years later after too many prisoners had died. MacArthur’s problem is that his letters up the chain of command only irritated them.
Let’s apply this to us. Do you have the courage to go where your efforts to help others will cause you pain and hurt? Are you among those who you would be helping, or in equal conditions? Do those who you help appreciate what you have done or are they combative? Did Jesus make any of these qualifications in the parable, or did He simply say to feed the hungry, provide drink to the thirsty, show hospitality to the stranger, clothe the naked, and provide comfort and help to the prisoner and the sick?
On our return trip from Nebraska last week, a motorist in an old car, that had seen better days, stepped out of his car and approached us. We had pulled into a rest area to change drivers. My wife does not do well in big cities. We were about to get to the Quad Cities (Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois). The other driver explained how they were about out of gas, no money, and they needed to get home to Peoria, Illinois. I had no idea whether the story was true. I reached into my wallet for a five-dollar bill. What came out was a ten-dollar bill. I handed it to the guy. He excitedly said, “God bless you,” and he and his wife jumped in the old car and sped away, probably to the nearest gas station, two miles down the highway.
Before I started our vehicle, I stared at the empty parking place where they had been. I asked my wife, “Did we just help someone who needed the help or were we victims of a scam?” My wife replied, “God knows what was in our hearts. Nothing else matters.”
As for the C. S. Lewis quote, since Peoria was only an hour and a half past the Quad Cities, I had given them enough so that they could make it all the way home, no longer in need. God made sure that I met their needs.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.