Least Ones

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
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,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:31-46)

Scripture Study

25:31 Son of Man Jesus uses this self-designation more than any other; it comes from the ot book of Daniel (see Dan 7:13 and note). This title occurs 30 times in the Gospel of Matthew and often stresses the exaltation of Jesus. Here, however, it highlights His position as a homeless itinerant. and all the angels with him See 24:30–31.

25:32 a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats When shepherds brought in their flocks at the end of the day, they typically put the goats in a sheltered area while leaving the sheep in an open-air pen.

25:34 Inherit the kingdom prepared for you The Jewish worldview of Jesus’ day envisioned the present age ending with a time of tribulation, followed by divine judgment. Then God’s kingdom—the age to come—would be fully inaugurated. This schema also is reflected in the books of Daniel and Revelation.

The Greek word used for revelation (apokalypsis) carries the idea of “revealing” or “unveiling.” This identifies the function of John’s Revelation: it is revelatory in nature. As an apocalyptic text, it relates to Dan 7–12, as well as portions of the Gospels (see Mark 13) and other deuterocanonical literature of the Second Temple period. While these other works contain apocalyptic literature, Revelation is the only biblical book comprised entirely of such material. The notions of “revealing” or “unveiling” link Revelation to the apocalyptic material of Daniel (see Dan 2:28–30, 45b–47). Much of John’s Revelation refers back to concepts and imagery introduced by Daniel.

Ultimately, Revelation is both “hope literature” and “crisis literature”: it is meant to instill hope during a period of crisis. It tells readers that they will not be harmed spiritually if they remain faithful. It also presents an end to physical suffering—trials will be vindicated when the Lamb judges the nations of the world. The reward for faithfulness will be eternal life spent in the presence of God (see Rev 21:3–5).

25:35 For I was hungry The actions described here (and in the next verse) reflect obedience to the command to love one’s neighbor—and thereby demonstrate love for God, as well (22:37–39).

25:40 for one of these least brothers Jesus’ remarks here call for Christian care to reach all the way to the bottom of the social structure, thus inverting earthly values.

25:41 eternal fire A symbol of divine wrath. Fire also became an image for final punishment—especially connected with the Valley of Ben-Hinnom (2 Chr 33:6; Jer 7:31–32) on the west side of Jerusalem at Wadi er-Rababi.

25:45 for one of these least ones Jesus’ remarks here call for Christian care to reach all the way to the bottom of the social structure, thus inverting earthly values.

Scripture Reflection

The Christian’s role in mission is made so abundantly clear in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel: do we see Christ in every needy person and do we act on that reality in works of charity and compassion?

While “these least brothers of mine” may be understood as Christian disciples, there is a long tradition of identifying them as all people in need. According to this interpretation, Jesus expresses his identification not only with those who have become his followers (his brothers and sisters in the sense of his followers) but with every human person who suffers and is in need of compassion (his brothers and sisters in the sense of all fellow human beings).

After all, Jesus does identify in a special way with the poor and underprivileged, regardless of their age, sex, nationality, or creed. Being their creator, his image is pressed upon every living person (see Gen 1:27).

Likewise, if works of charity and compassion are expected of non-Christians, how much more are the followers of Jesus expected to put love into action through service to others. Those who confess Jesus as “Lord” are obligated to do the will of the Father in all of its various applications in order to “enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 7:21).

– Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

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