Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:34-40
NOTE TO DEAR READER: You’re not supposed to bury the lead, but I did. Please look to the end of this post for an important reminder.
I don’t want to be absent minded. That, however, does not prevent me from doing things a bit more thoughtlessly than I ought. I’ll lay down a book in an odd spot – without really thinking about it – and wonder where it is as I wander all over the house looking for it. I’ll put my coffee cup in an odd place, or even my computer or camera(!) and have to search the premises in an effort to locate these items. I don’t want to be absent minded…except in the case Jesus points to here.
Notice the reaction of the people here: “When did we see you…?” They were unaware of their acts of kindness toward Jesus. And this is more than simply doing acts of kindness, or even that thoughtlessness with which we do them. This is about Jesus’ willingness to identify with the least of his brothers – in this particular case the disciples to whom he refers here.
The disciples are the “these brothers of mine” to whom Jesus refers here. Jesus cares about how his followers are treated. This is not to say we ignore anyone who is not a follower of Jesus. It is not to say that we do not serve Jesus when we serve people who are not believers. It is to say that our service to Jesus’ followers – and especially those who carry the gospel message far and wide – is noted by Jesus. When we feed Jesus’ followers, we feed him.
When we feed the hungry in general (perhaps including “the least”) we also feed Jesus. We are following Jesus’ own example when we feed the hungry. He had compassion on the multitude and provided a banquet in the wilderness for them. To do less cuts short the impact of Jesus’ love for us and for all people.
Furthermore, when we do these things, we should we do so without giving a second thought to it. One of the very real dangers of taking the Red Letter Challenge seriously is that we can become cryptically self-righteous. It’s very easy to play the part of the humble sacrificial giver while keeping secret score of what we are doing and expecting appropriate rewards (however we might define “appropriate”). To that we take to heart Jesus’ own words, “When you give, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3-4).