The least of these

Mother Theresa
Mother Theresa

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.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

6 thoughts on “The least of these”

  1. On behalf of the disabled, THANK YOU. I have encountered so much hate and judgment from the Christian community in regards to my having both mental and physical disabilities. Because of the bad economy there seems to be a rise in people who hate the needy and the poor. They irrationally blame those who cannot find jobs, and also those who are unable to work. The people who say that the government should not help are usually also the ones who are unwilling to lift a finger to help them themselves.

    As an advocate for the mentally ill, I would like to remind people that we need help too. There are various privately-funded and government-funded agencies that work together to help get the indigent mentally ill off of the streets, get them medical care, housing, financial help, and for those who are able, work training and job-placement assistance

    For more info:
    plus your local state departments of mental health and rehabilitation

    Thank you.
    Mary Rogers


  2. Hello George,
    I’ve been very interested in reading these over the past few months. I’d like to say that this one has had the highest amount of thought provoking influence on me so far. I serve God in the foodbank, and in several other ways financially, in regular prayer and fasting, sharing the good news of Jesus here and there.
    Yet God really spoke to me through this letter today; the words of Paul,”doing good to our family”. I’ve done some things form my nieghbours, both here and abroad, but not as much as I could have for my nearest and dearest.
    Isn’t it amaizing how one person can seek God face to expand His kingdoms and spread His love to the people of the world, and one chap listening to His guidance is having his focus directed to his own house hold.

    On to what You’re saying here. I’ve been doing a short study on Paul,(not finnished yet), and one thing that stands out is this; no matter the size of the threat, extent of up and coming danger, he put God’s love for His people before himself. Even after and during the severe persecution, he didn’t miss a beat of God’s heart to spread the good news. That’s where I share my oppinion. We in the west have things far to easy, and consequently dont truely see just how hard it is for those that cant sit on their sofa, by a warm fire complete with hot chocolate cupped in hands, and say “how dreadfull this is”, when seen on TV. You kow better than most of us that there’s no sofa, TV, warm drink, and often no roof over them either. And that’s all their lives, wheter they die young from avoidable diseases, or live a full life.
    But within just minutes, it’s almost totally forgoten, as we soak our minds with other things. We NEED to share the same urgency as Jesus would, were He here in the flesh. Paul said, “put on the mind of Christ”, by doing so, these things acn be expected:- a need to repent of indefference, seek actions to take, starting with prayer,(“I only do what I see my Father doing”).have courage in the face of danger,(“though I walk through the valley of the shaddow of death, I shall fear no evil”), and havd a strong determination to see the task finnished. Each of us will have different guidance from the Holy Spirit, that’s what makes us a body and not just an index fingure.
    So if Paul was not only willing, but embracing such torture, shouldn’t we live a little more dangerously? Now suicidal stupidity, but give, not our extra time/money, but that which will force us to come away from independent lifestyle, to that which forces us into a place where we are living in trust, trusting God to give us strength, feed us, see to our bills, and so on. He will do it. I say that because when we give our all in love to Him, His faithfulness comes off the page and is manifest in our everyday lives.
    An old saying I used as a youth, but for the wrong reasons, and disbelieved as a young christian, and now see as truth for those that dig deep is this,”No pain, no gain”.

    Love you my dear brother. xx


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