26 November 2023Matthew 25:31-46
And the king will answer them, '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.' (v. 40)
Today's reading ends a long section (Matthew 24:32-25:46) on themes of watchfulness and judgement and comes immediately before the unjust judgement of Jesus in the Passion narrative.
The horrific events in Gaza/Israel can encourage speculation on whether the time of judgement is upon us. Is that helpful or a diversion from any personal challenge?
There are many opinions about who is gathered, who is being judged and who should be helped. I’m going to be simplistic and provocative by suggesting that the more power, wealth and privilege people have, the more tightly they try to limit who is covered by Jesus' teaching. In more detail:
Verse 32 says 'All nations' will be gathered before the Son of Man. Does this only apply to gentile nations (as Matthew 19:28 shows the 12 disciples judging the 12 tribes of Israel)? And what is meant by “separate the people”? Is Jesus only holding the believers to account?
But the biggest discussion area is who is referred to in verse 40 which says “the least of these who are members of my family” and in verse 45 ("Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”). Who is Jesus talking about? The most common options seem to be:
Jews. (This is based on a tight interpretation of 'members of my family' which is sometimes translated as 'brothers and sisters of mine'.)
Christians. (See Matthew 10:42 which in some translations such as the NIV is limited to disciples “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”)
All people. (This view takes its cue from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which tells us to love our enemies and those who persecute us. Also the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10 which expands our understanding of who counts as our 'neighbour'.)
I am amazed at the confidence of those who believe that they will be able to argue with God at judgement day and say “I studied the gospels and decided to follow Jesus, but when you were talking about the 'least of these' I was sure you were not including a homeless person in a tent, an asylum seeker on a boat, a person unable to survive on Universal Credit, a Muslim child in Gaza, …”
How do you feel about my presentation of an inclusive view of those being judged and needing help? Why?
What is your understanding of Jesus identifying with those in need? Do you have any experience of that? How do you feel about it?