We may say that we love God, but is it just words? Love involves action, so how do we actively express our love for Him? How can we be sure that our love for God is not just a religious or emotional feeling?
Jesus told a story in which he clearly shows us that our love for our fellow-man is received by Him as love for Himself. How amazing is that? As we show compassion towards those in need, we can be really loving God.
There is a warning too. Indifference to the needs of the poor, or sick, or homeless is indifference towards God. We cannot say that we love God, and at the same time, be indifferent to the needs we see around us.
The parable of the sheep and goats
This parable that Jesus told is quite well-known and has been the cause of much dispute over the years. Many old-fashioned commentaries dismiss this parable as belonging to another ‘dispensation’ or age, and use other arguments to limit the impact of what Jesus said. In this article I will ignore the whole matter of judgement and heaven/hell and concentrate on the amazing statement that our God receives our actions or indifference towards are fellow human beings as though we were directly blessing, or being indifferent to, Him.
Matthew 25, verse 40 says,
“The King will reply, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. Anything you did for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did for me‘.
These brothers of mine
We could interpret “these brothers of mine” in several ways, but we need to ask ourselves, “Is the interpretation a cop-out to limit the personal challenge to us?”
- People of the same race as the man Jesus – the Jews. Correct me if I am wrong but I think that nowhere else did Jesus describe his fellow countryman as his brothers. People have tried to explain this parable away by saying it is ‘about the way the nations treat Israel’. This approach simply avoids the issue and prevents people applying it to their own lives.
- To our fellow believers in Jesus. This seems to undermine what Jesus is really saying here. Paul said that we were to do good to all men and especially to the household of faith. Note that doing good to our (extended) family is important but doing good must be inclusive of everyone. Limiting the application of this saying of Jesus in this way is not true to his nature, and the nature of God.
- If we suggest that this verse only applies to the treatment of Christians, then are we really saying that Christians will only be judged on their treatment of other Christians?
- This parable applies to “all the nations” so do we really think that people who do not share our faith should give preferential treatment to followers of Jesus?
- To any who are needy. This is the only interpretation which reflects the amazing love of God, who loves the ‘whole world’ equally and wants us to do the same. Jesus says that his brothers are the poor, the stranger, the ill, the prisoner: all who must rely on the kindness of others.
The least important of these
In the parable Jesus talks about 6 groups of recipients of our care – or our indifference.
- The hungry
- The thirsty
- The stranger, or homeless
- People lacking clothes
- The sick
- The prisoner
To these we could legitimately add:
- The dying
- The uneducated
- The despised
- The refugee
- The disabled
- The vulnerable because of youth or old age
- People of a different faith, or no faith at all.
We meet some of these people in our everyday lives and have the opportunity of helping directly. We might need to travel to another country to bring comfort to some. We can help others by donating to, or volunteering with, a charity working amongst the disadvantaged.
Indifference: the opposite of compassion
In the same way that our positive care for those in need is accepted by God as care for Him, doing nothing is not doing it to God. The opposite of compassion is not negative things like hatred it is simply indifference. The opposite of action is non-action.
You did it for me
Think just for a moment what it means: that love shown to another human being is accepted by God as love for Him. This is not just a nice thought, or a theological statement. God’s love extends to all mankind, and is so great and genuine that He takes great delight when our actions of love relieve some of the distress caused by need.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta was particularly involved with the sick and dying and clearly believed that she saw Jesus in those she cared for. Her love for God was expressed in her sacrificial lifestyle of care and compassion for the needy.
It is sometimes difficult to love God whom we cannot see. This parable urges us to express our love for God through caring, showing love and compassion, to those around us who often need our help. God, who loves them unconditionally, is then pleased, and accepts our love as being for Him.