The Least of Christ’s Brothers and Sisters

Matthew 25:31-46

The Lord told this parable:  “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.  Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


Of course, the king in this story, The Son of Man, is Christ himself.  He identifies himself first of all with the poor, those who lack basic necessities like food, drink, clothing, and shelter.  He dwells in them, so that those who serve them are actually serving him.  Though they have borne great shame in human society, he shares with them his immeasurable dignity.  In this way he restores to them the royalty of the image of God.  .  .  .     Surely, Christ’s act of identification and union with them includes all who are marginalized in the ancient society such as women, the disabled, the homeless, and slaves; it includes all who are marginalized today.  Astonishingly, in the story he does not ask them to do anything to merit such union with him.  He simply loves them and counts them as his own family.  He does not even have to say that they are blessed by the Father and will inherit the kingdom prepared for them since before the world’s creation.  This reality is already established and he takes it as given.     (Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation, pg 192)


Guard by every means your heart, or the sincerity of your heart, your capability of sympathising with your neighbours in their joys and sorrows, and avoid, as you would avoid mortal poison, any indifference and coldness to people’s various misfortunes, sicknesses, and needs:  for it is by sympathy, especially active sympathy, that the love and goodness of the Christian are revealed, and in love the whole law is contained, whilst, on the contrary, our selfishness, malice, malevolence, and envy are revealed by a want of sympathy.  Thus, pray for all those for whom the Church orders you to pray, or, pray willingly for others, as you would pray for yourself, and do not relax in sincerity, do not lose inward respect for the person or persons for whom you pray; do not allow the holy fire of love to be extinguished, or your light darkened; do not despond at the wiles of the enemy, undermining your heart and striving to implant in your heart aversion to all, to take away from your lips the prayer of others which is the best proof of evangelical love for our brethren.    (St John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pg 161)


What is the counsel of the Master? ‘Lend to those from whom you do not hope to receive in return.’ [ … ] Whenever you have the intention of providing for a poor man for the Lord’s sake, the same if both a gift and a loan, a gift because of the expectation of no repayment, but a loan because of the great gift of the Master who pays in his place, and who, receiving trifling things through a poor man, will give great things in return for them.  ‘He that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to God.’  Do you not wish to have the Lord of the universe answerable to you for payment? [ … ] …accept God as surety for the poor.    (St Basil, trans Sr Agnes Clare Way, CDP, St. Basil: Exegetic Homilies, Fathers of the Church Volume 46, pg 190)