When Barack Obama was in office, he famously quoted Scripture for a cause of the moment. He referred to Jesus's words, "As you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40) It is part of the Social Justice mantra. "The least of these." "Look," they say, "it refers to the needy." Because, in context, Jesus speaks about the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and the imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-36). "So we're all supposed to care for 'the least of these,'" they tell us. But ... just who are "the least of these"?
First, the quote comes from Jesus telling a parable (Matthew 25:31-46). It's the story of the King gathering sheep and goats. The sheep are on His right and the goats on His left. The sheep cared for "the least of these" and the goats did not. The sheep are welcomed into the kingdom and the goats are sent to eternal punishment. That is, this is serious business.
So who are "the least of these"? We don't have to figure it out. Jesus states it in the text.
"Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40)
He explains that "the least of these" are "these brothers of Mine." Well, now, that limits it, doesn't it?
You see, despite the warm and fuzzy notion that we're all God's children and all brothers, Scripture is abundantly clear that this just isn't so. John wrote, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12) Paul wrote that those whom God foreknew are being "conformed to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29) It is only those who are in Christ who are classified as "these brothers of Mine" and not the general public.
This is consistent with Jesus's teaching. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Speaking to His disciples, He referenced love for one another, not "everybody." We are to love everybody -- our "neighbors" -- but this love for the brethren is a specific and special component of that which identifies us as His disciples.
The difference in Jesus's story in Matthew 25 between the sheep and the goats was not what they did. The difference was in what they were -- sheep or goats. They might resemble one another, but they're not the same. What they were -- sheep or goats -- reflected in what they did. In the same way, if we are His disciples (sheep), it should reflect in what we do. What we should be doing (almost unknowingly, according to the story) is naturally caring for God's people in need. And if we are not, we should really check our status. "Do I just resemble a sheep? Am I actually a goat??" Because the mark of a believer is love for the brethren. And "the least of these" refers to God's people -- brethren -- for whom we ought to be caring. Especially these days.
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