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The Least of These

The Least of These

As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40

While working in the ER, I met an interesting population. Sudden illness and injury strike everyone, no matter the socioeconomic status, but the ER also traditionally serves a significantly underprivileged population. It was always tempting to pat myself on the back for caring for the downtrodden. In the back of my mind though, was the realization that I was being paid to do so. My self-adulation withered as I admitted that I wasn’t going to spend any time with the destitute when not at work.

How I treat the poor though, is apparently of great importance. In today’s passage, Jesus insists that my soul depends on it. In the story, Jesus describes the final judgement, where he’ll divide the world into two groups, not by socioeconomic status, but rather, we’ll be divided by how we’ve treated the disadvantaged. He’ll tell the first group that when he was hungry and thirsty, they fed him and gave him a drink. They will ask, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? To which Jesus will respond, As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.

Jesus will then turn to the other group, chastising them for not feeding or clothing him when he was hungry and naked. They will protest, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison? Again, Jesus will insist that as they treated the lowest among them, they did the same to Jesus.

There are a couple of painful lessons here. First, it doesn’t matter what the two groups claimed to believe. Those in the second group, the ones destined for eternal punishment, had impeccable doctrine. They believed all the right things, but they refused to love those they considered beneath them.

Second, how we treat the unfortunate among us is how we regard Christ. We cannot follow Jesus, while ignoring the needs of those around us. Callous indifference to the needy is callous indifference towards Christ. The condition of our souls depends on how we treat others. We may be saved by faith, but if that faith is real, it will impact how we live. How we treat the poorest among us reveals how we treat Christ, and in turn, how he treats us.

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