“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.” – Matthew 25:31-46
Some folks make this story about how we should treat people in need. The “least of these,” they say, ” are worthy of our loving care. It is as if we are doing it to Jesus when we respond to the homeless, hungry, and hated people of the world.” I agree: we need to respond to those who are in need. That is certainly part of the moral of this story. We mark ourselves as followers of Jesus as we do so.
As I shared yesterday, however, the story also speaks of “these brothers of mine,” in addition to the king, the sheep and the goats. These brothers of Jesus are considered neither sheep nor goats. They are not being judged. They are with Jesus.
The clearest understanding of their identity is that they are the disciples of Jesus – perhaps even the 12 apostles. Jesus might also have had in mind the 120, or 500 referred to in Acts 1 or 1 Corinthians 15. He could also be including all who take up the mantle of Christian discipleship. These are Jesus’ servants, and even the least of them are to be honored. When they are cared for, Jesus is pleased.
You might be one of those about whom Jesus is speaking. Are you seeking his kingdom and his righteousness first and foremost? Are you loving your neighbor and seeking to help her discover Jesus’ love? Are you serving for the cause of the King in some way – large or small? If so, you are Jesus’ brother or sister.
If, on the other hand, you see one who is serving the cause of the King, and you offer the comfort of your presence, share your supply of food, or invest your time in visiting this person in their hour of need, then you show yourself to be one who is blessed of Jesus’ Father – an heir of God’s kingdom.
This is not primarily a story of how we should care for the poor; though we certainly should, and those who do so are furthering the cause of God’s rule and reign. This is a story to encourage those who are furthering the cause of the King: Jesus has your back. Receive the love and encouragement of others as a gift from God and know that those who supply it are blessed by God.