“Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”Jesus

The parable of the sheep and the goats, from Matthew 25:31-46, has long been an arresting, challenging, and alarming story to me. In this parable, Jesus describes a judgment day scene in which the peoples of the nations will be separated like a shepherd separates sheep and goats. The gist of how the shepherd does the separating is this: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Those who are counted among the blessed sheep protest to Jesus, asking, “When did we see YOU and do these things for you?” Jesus responds, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” Jesus then goes on to warn that whatever we don’t do for the least of these, we haven’t done it to him either, a sobering warning indeed.

During the 1990s, a fad took hold within parts of the Christian subculture in which believers would wear bracelets that read “WWJD?” (What Would Jesus Do?). The question was based on Charles Sheldon’s 1897 bestselling book, “In His Steps.” The story followed various characters who learned to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” as they faced various decisions and quandaries. The bracelet was intended to be a prompt, causing believers to consider how they might demonstrate the love of Jesus through their actions (a worthy practice). Sadly, it became a cliche.

As I reflect on Matthew 25, the emphasis I hear is that we are to go and “meet Jesus in others,” rather than centering ourselves as “being Jesus to others.” The way Jesus sets up the parable, we’re not the main character in the story—rather, the hungry, thirsty, and strangers are! As we think about the practical implications of Matthew 25, it would be interesting to ask ourselves: How would my actions be impacted if I saw Jesus in person before me?

Saint Benedict, who created the Rule by which most monasteries have been governed for the past 1400 years, took Matthew 25 very seriously. Concerning hospitality he wrote, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” If you visit a Benedictine monastery today, you’ll receive such remarkable hospitality. This typically includes being greeted with a bow (they are welcoming Christ, after all!), the sharing in prayers, having your feet washed by the abbot, and being fed good meals (even if monks are fasting). Benedict rightly saw that Matthew 25 is a text about deep hospitality: extending to the stranger the same welcome we would seek to extend to Jesus himself.

If this teaching feels challenging to you, I believe you are hearing it properly. In this timeless parable, Jesus is challenging our spiritual complacency and overturning our apathy toward the suffering of others. If this teaching feels impossible to live out, consider the wise words of Shane Claiborne: ”What we can say with confidence is that we are to give something to everyone who asks – dignity, attention, time, a listening ear. Sometimes we may give money, sometimes not. But we can always give love.”

Andy Wall
Author: Andy Wall