My life and my thoughts - on faith, culture, politics, whatever comes to my mind

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What you did for the least of these ...

Amy over at Amy’s humble musings is hosting the Vox Apologia VIII on the topic “the least of these”. This is my attempt to contribute something.
For a long time now the story of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25, 31-46) has come back into my mind on a regular basis. I first really started thinking about it after listening to the song “The sheep and the goats” by Keith Green (listen to it, sometimes a song brings home the point or the importance of something).
What happens in this story told by Jesus? Jesus, the son of man and our king, sits on the throne in heavenly glory and the nations are gathered before him. Jesus separates the people to his right and left like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The ones on his right (the sheep) are welcomed into the kingdom prepared for them, but the ones on the left (the goats) are told to depart from him into eternal punishment. The difference is that the sheep gave Jesus food when he was hungry and drink when he was thirsty. They invited him when he was a stranger, cared for him when he was sick and visited him when he was in prison. The goats did not do any of these things. Both sides wonder – the sheep when they did do those things for Jesus, the goats when they did not do them. This is Jesus answer to the sheep: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Verse 40, NIV). Likewise he rebukes the goats: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me” (Verse 45, NIV).
The least of these. This is a central point in this story Jesus tells. The whole story of the sheep and the goats tells us the importance of a faith that is alive. It is true that we are saved by grace through our faith in Jesus. But a faith that bears no results in our everyday life is dead (James 2, 26). What are those results? Take a look at Jesus’ answers to the sheep and the goats. Works of love and compassion. Caring for hungry and thirsty people. Caring for the lonely, the ill and the imprisoned ones. Jesus tells us that our faith should lead us to taking care of the least of these.
Who are the least of these? The note in my NIV study bible says there are different views on who Jesus refers to, among them (1) all who are hungry, ill, etc.; (2) apostles and missionaries or (3) fellow followers of Jesus.
When I think about it, I understand the term as a mixture of those groups mentioned in the note. Of course the apostles and missionaries are included in the group of fellow Christians. So, are the least of these the distressed everywhere, no matter if they are Christians, or are they other Christians in distress. In my understanding, our love and compassion should extend to everybody. God loves everyone and wants to show his love and compassion through our actions to all the people.
But I think that we have a special “responsibility” to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our love for each other flows out of God’s love for us and is a testimony of God’s love to the world. John stresses this eloquently in his first letter (chapter 3, 11-24; chapter 4, 7-21). The responsibilities for the well-being of our brothers and sisters is repeatedly stressed throughout the New Testament. The least of these in the sense of Matthew 25 therefore are (in my understanding) our Christian brothers and sisters, who suffer from poverty, famine, want, persecution, war, loneliness, disability, abuse, human rights violations, the list goes on. And we should help them regardless of their position, their fame, their importance, their influence. Regardless of our affection or the lack thereof for them. These are criteria people so often take into consideration, before they decide to help someone. We as followers of Jesus should ignore those criteria. We are called to help the least of these - therefore all of them.
There are brothers and sisters who need our help. So for Jesus’ sake (see the sheep and the goats) we are called to help them.