The least of these.
The orphaned, the widowed, the strangers. Or the young, the old, the vulnerable. For each of us, the title of the least of these probably brings to mind different groups of people. Those being impacted by drought in Somalia, the Haitian farmer who lost his crops to the wind and rain of Hurricane Matthew, the refugee fleeing all that was familiar in hopes of safety and a better tomorrow.
I had never seen it before.
In Matthew 25 Jesus teaches about coming into his glory and the gathering of the nations. During this time, he separates the sheep from the goats and defines how this separation will be determined.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
What I had never seen before was that this verse that has become so familiar—the call to care for the least of these—is captured as the final teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The next words out of his mouth, Jesus is telling his disciples that in two days he would be handed over to be crucified. The weight of these words increases as I realize he saved them for last and gave these instructions for us to receive blessings and inheritance and righteousness.
In an earlier conversation with the Pharisees captured in Matthew 23, Jesus responds to their question:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Our first command is to love the Lord. But the second is to love others. In this account in the Gospel of Luke Jesus unfolds what this means in the story of the Good Samaritan. The definition of neighbor is expanded to an unlikely pairing—Samaritan and Jew. But it is the actions of mercy, of love, of caring for those in need that earn the title of Good.
As we move from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, from death to resurrected life, from sin and separation to eternity with the King, may we attune our ears to the one who sets us free. May we find ways to love the Lord through our actions—by offering the hungry something to eat and the thirsty a drink, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison. It is through these actions that we will be rewarded both here and now and for eternity.
Thank you for walking alongside Outside the Bowl and tangibly loving your neighbors—often the least of these—by providing hot, nutritious meals. In so doing, you are extending acts of kindness to our King.