A reflection on Matthew 25:31-46
This passage from Matthew isn’t a story that we actually love to hear. The words to it don’t ring as easy as the words to a new song, nor do the words of this passage allow us to sit comfortably or idly by as others suffer through life’s struggles and torments. No, this is a passage that should call us to action. It is a passage that challenges us to re-evaluate how we choose to live our lives here on earth so that the kingdom of God is “here as it is in heaven.”
Verses 32-33 have all the nations gathered before this judge, and he will separate the people one from another, not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of how they have responded to Jesus indirectly. By indirectly, I mean what is suggested that whatever good has been done to the “least of these” will be accredited as if it has been done to or for Jesus himself.
Here’s our problem. And I’m not sure we’re ready to hear it as individuals, as a church, or as the church universal. Our problem is this: instead of going out and doing the work of Christ—serving the least of these, those who are hungry, those who need clothes, those who need to be visited, those who are a stranger and need to be welcomed, those who are thirsty—we instead get comfortable and focus on our “at leasts.”
Allow me to explain. The call in Matthew 25 is to help the least of these, but instead we focus on our comfortability and we use “the least of these” as a comparison to make ourselves feel better. We say, “at least we’re not like them.” We teach our children and others around us to praise God because “at least we’re not homeless. At least we have food on our table. At least we have clothes. At least we have people who love us. At least we live in a country where we can worship freely. At least we aren’t being forced to leave our homes because of threat.”
You see, the problem with this comparative approach is that we inevitably negate the humanity in the person and persons with whom we are making the comparison. We do not see the need to minister to them, and we do not see how we are called to love them and help them. Instead, what we see is the “at least.”
We’ve already made the people we’re using for comparison faceless and we have neglected to see the inhumanity of our statements. What about those who are homeless? What about those who don’t have food? What about those who don’t have clothes? What about those who don’t have people who show them love? What about those who are persecuted for their faith? What about those who are being forced to leave their homes and need to be welcomed?
Are we unable to see how we’ve made the “at least” people less than? What’s the harm in using ‘them’ to make us feel like God is more present in our lives and has moved miraculously? Well, everything’s wrong with it. We begin to see ourselves as privileged and better than. We begin to elevate our statuses above the “other” and those who are our “at leasts.” We become the goats instead of the sheep. We turn away members of the family. Members of God’s family.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Jesus looked at those who were hungry and he fed them. Jesus looked at the sick and he healed them. Jesus looked at the outcasts and he offered love and grace. Jesus likewise calls us into a ministry that seeks to help others instead of further dehumanizing and widening the gap.
These are the members of the family, and we don’t get to choose who is part of that family. Actually, Christ makes it clear in this passage that members of God’s family includes those who we often ignore. It includes those who are outside the bounds of our social structures. It includes those are wandering, looking for a safe place. It includes ALL. It’s time to drop our “at least” language, make room at the table and welcome every member of God’s family.
- Rev. Lacey Wondree