And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Remember The Least Brethren
All that is known about the event of final judgment comes from the teaching of Jesus. He describes the gathering of humanity before the throne of God as one separates sheep from goats. What is unique about the description of the day of reckoning in Matthew’s account is the basis for judgment. It does not suggest there are no other reasons that will accuse or excuse a soul on this day but the focus is on the relationship of man to man and as a result, a relationship between man and God. Often when the discussion of the judgment day is approached, the questions of grace, commandment-keeping, obedience, love and mercy are at the forefront. Jesus does not dismiss these elements of the final day but His teaching days before His own death focus on the relationship of men to one another. In turn, the benevolent spirit of man or lack thereof will be the basis of salvation. One group hears the words of eternal life when Jesus says, “Come, you blessed of My Father.” To another group, Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed.” What becomes the underlying factor in whether a man is lost or saved in this story? To the first group (the sheep) the Lord commends them for showing a hand of benevolence to those who were in need as if doing so to Jesus. The response of the righteous is confusion because they did not remember showing kindness to Jesus. What the righteous did not appreciate is that when they fed a hungry man they were feeding Christ. Giving a man a glass of water was more than quenching the thirst of a man; it was showing the Lord love. In each case of benevolence, the act was personified as an expression of love for Christ. The contrast is given to those in the second group (the goats) who failed to have compassion for their fellow man. By their neglect of others, the lost was condemned for not showing love for Jesus. The confusion of the cursed is when did they neglect to feed, clothe or give Jesus a drink? What they failed to understand in life that benevolence was an act toward God more than an act of kindness to men. By refusing to help their fellow man they denied the will of God and thereby condemned themselves. These would go away into everlasting punishment but the righteous into eternal life.
There is a deeper level to the message of Jesus when He commends the righteous for caring for the needy and also condemns the cursed for their negligence. Those who were helped or denied help included those who were considered the least among men. It would be easy to be kind to those who deserved it but to stoop to helping even the least among the brethren is a difficult challenge. Albert Barnes describes these people as the obscure, the least known, the poorest, the most despised and afflicted. Jesus is emphatic about kindness being shown for all men including those who are the least to be considered important. It is a sad commentary in the nature of men to look upon many of his brethren as non-important or non-essential. There are economic divides, social divisions and prejudices that separate men from caring for others. In the parable of the Samaritan, Jesus highlights the calamity of hatred for a fellow human being when the priest and the Levite abandon an unknown man to death. Of all people that should be viewed as benevolent and kind, those who served in the Temple of God should be examples of benevolence. It would take the story of a man considered by the Jews as a mongrel dog to teach the lesson of love to a world filled with hatred for the least among them. Only the Samaritan was willing to help the unknown man and save his life. The King will answer to the saved that eternal life is granted because when they showed love to the least of the brethren they expressed love for the Father.
The apostle Paul will illuminate this teaching when he reminds the brethren at Corinth that as the church of Christ is likened to a body, so the relationships of brethren to one another come from love to those that include the weak member. It is easy to focus on the important parts of the church and those who are spiritual giants but what about those who constantly struggle with their faith? Among the body of believers, there will always be those individuals who can’t seem to get their lives in order. They struggle in a mighty way to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and yet they are a necessary part of the church. The lesson of Jesus bridges to the relationship of brethren with one another. One of the most important parts of life is the view that is held toward the “least of these My brethren.” Fundamentally, this must be viewed from the perspective of the cross. Jesus died for all men including the least among men. His blood does not cleanse the sins of the religious elite who have greater strength and faith than the poor soul who is least among brethren or the weak members in the body of Christ. The final Day of Judgment will be a defining moment for many who will be judged on many levels. Jesus emphasized in His sermon of the sheep and the goats that judgment would be based on the least among the brethren and the care is given to them by others. Inasmuch as we serve others – even the least among us – we do it to Jesus Christ.