“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. 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, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 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.’”
Individuals and organizations that provide food, drink, clothing and shelter to the needy are obviously to be commended.
“You did it to me,” the King says.
The harder part of fulfilling this portion of Matthew 25 sometimes is that it doesn’t stop with providing food and drink and clothing, or even with building houses. Sometimes it requires Christians to face and even embrace some of the ugliness of society and reject our natural desire to keep it at arms’ length.
“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
It’s easy to think, “Well, times have changed. We don’t need to take people into our homes.”
Sometimes bringing a homeless person under our roof might be exactly the response needed. Sometimes it’s less extreme: Taking a hungry person – broke and dirty and living on the street – to lunch and sharing not only our sustenance, but also our time and encouragement is also a picture of welcome.
Another ugly part of the “stranger/welcome” equation is dealing with an illegal alien. Whatever our political beliefs might be about securing borders – we should remember that biblical heroes lived both in walled cities and the open countryside – scripture gives us no room to ignore the plights of needy people already in front of us.
Another common opportunity to serve “the least of these my brothers” is visiting the ill or infirmed. Hospitals, nursing homes and medical technology have assumed many tasks that loved ones once fulfilled for sick people, but professionals can’t substitute for the touch, words, prayers and acts of service that friends and family can offer.
One great and growing need is visiting the elderly. As off-putting as mental and physical decline can be, Christians are called to confront their aversion and show compassion to such people. Sometimes those who so serve benefit as much as their intended beneficiaries.
Oh, and then there’s that troubling phrase, “I was in prison and you came to me.” Few places are more intimidating than jails and prisons, and reaching out to inmates – some hardened criminals – can be even more frightening. Yet Jesus gives no room for his disciples to take a “let someone else do it” approach to prison ministry.
Investing our time and emotional energy in the people most difficult to serve is as much a part of fulfilling Jesus’ admonition as investing our money and effort in food, clothing and shelter for those with more tangible needs.
The most difficult people to serve might be the very definition of “the least of these my brothers.”