Today’s text: Matthew 25: 31-46
Today we conclude the 25th Chapter of Matthew. Our story follows four parables in a row about the end times. In them, Jesus has described a homeowner watching over his house, knowing a thief intends to come that night; a servant, faithful to his task, even while his master has been long away; maidens waiting in the thick of night for a bridegroom to come; and servants entrusted with the management of their master’s money while he is away. These are varied depictions of a single reality.
Today’s story presents a different angle. In straightforward language, Jesus recounts the marvelous things that are to come. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,” He says, “and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.” (Mt. 25:31-32). This is not parable. This is prophecy. It is direct, matter of fact, stark. The Son of Man, in his glory, surrounded by angels, seated upon a throne of glory, and all peoples assembled before Him.
The peoples will be separated, Jesus says, as a shepherd separates sheep on his right and goats on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right,” He continues, clarifying that this Son of Man is a king. ‘You are blessed by my Father,’ He will say, ‘Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world.’
Who inherits a kingdom? Isn’t that the normal domain of a prince or princess, of children of the king? Such a statement, such a promise invites clarification. Jesus gives it in the next lines.
The reason why the people on his right inherit the Kingdom of God is because in this Kingdom Jesus sees all human beings as his brothers or sisters. And loving care shown to a brother or sister of Jesus is like a mark of kinship in the Kingdom. It is a resemblance of the heart; it is behavior that identifies you as belonging to the family of the king. Of those so marked, Jesus says: ‘When one of the least of my brothers and sisters was hungry, you fed them; when thirsty, you gave them to drink; when a stranger, you welcomed them; when naked, you clothed them; when ill, you cared for them; when in prison, you visited them.’
In the moment, those on his right didn’t know that the needy were family to Jesus; they couldn’t see it at the time. But Jesus, as king, is telling them one of the laws of his Kingdom. He is revealing to them what kind of king He is. He is the kind of king who cares about those in His Kingdom, even the least, with the same love a mother feels for her children. Such that He can say: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for this one, the least of my brothers, you did for me” (Mt. 25: 40). This is the language of family. Such a statement could very well be made by a mother about her troubled child. But Jesus says this about about every child in his kingdom. His kingdom is a family: that is the revelation here.
For those on the king’s left, it is bad news. They missed this reality, while on earth, and now it is too late to do anything about it. ‘Depart from me,’ he will say to them, ‘into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For when I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill or in prison, you did not care for me.’ Those on the left violated one of the primary laws of the kingdom. And so they are sent, as though by gravity, to eternal punishment, while the righteous go to eternal life.
What is the heart of this passage?
This is a challenging passage. I cannot address all of it. I am struck by this verse: “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these the least of my brothers, you did to me.’” (Mt. 25.40) What kind of king identifies so closely with the lowest of his subjects? How can what is done to the least of his subjects be done to Jesus? Let’s dig a little deeper. Again, this is the language of a tender family. A mother could easily say this of her son; a father of his daughter; a tender older brother of the younger brother he watches out for. But here we have a king saying it; not of those in his court; not of his elder son; but of the least man or woman in his Kingdom. Jesus, high king, sees every person in the Kingdom of Heaven as a member of his family, even the lowest, the weakest, the most wounded, the most forgotten, the most in need. That is the revelation here.
The Least of my Brothers, Along the Side of the Road
Does Scripture give us an analogue to this kind of being-family? My thoughts run to the story of the Samaritan, traveling along the road to Jericho (Lk. 10: 29-37). Look closely: this man is the image of the least of Jesus’ brothers. While traveling, he is attacked by robbers, beaten, stripped, and left half-dead. Lying there, bloodied by the side of the road, a priest sees him – but passes by on the opposite side. A Levite sees him and does the same. Then a Samaritan, traveling, comes close to him. He sees him and is moved with compassion. He approaches, tends the man’s wounds, places him upon his own mule, carries him to the inn and cares for him. Needing to complete his journey, he gives the inn keeper two denarii (two days wages) to care for him until his return.
What are we seeing here? This is a living image of how Jesus regards every person in his Kingdom. This Samaritan, like the father of the prodigal son, gives us a window into the heart of Jesus. He sees a poor, wounded, beaten, stripped, forgotten man and recognizes in him a beloved brother. His heart goes out to him. He stops what he is doing. He gives him his time. He treats him like family. He binds his wounds. Needing to continue his travel after taking a day to care for him, he uses his money, like the stewards in the last week’s parable, to fund the further care of this man. He causes compassion to grow in his absence, just as the servants made the business owner’s money grow while he was away. It is a living example of loving care of the least ones.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says. (Lk. 10: 37)
How Can I Take this to Prayer?
“And the King will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt. 25.40)
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the beloved son of the Father, in whom He delights. You are the King of the Kingdom of heaven; You sit upon a glorious throne, surrounded by angels, yet you love all men and women as members of your family. Help me to love my neighbor as you do; help me to be a neighbor to those in my life, as the Samaritan was; help me to be-family to those who are in your family. Amen. Have mercy on me.