“Because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
I offer you moral superiority:
Remember the least of these.
Our power justifies no abuse of the weak or the helpless.
Higher intelligence grants no divine right to oppress
but an elder sibling responsibility to protect.
No life can be owned but your own!
To profit from the suffering or death of the less intelligent is evil.
To limit the existence of any being less powerful
Is to replace all hope for heaven with a hell
that’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt
so it can pass as normal.
I am not religious but, the radical dude Jesus’ judgment of the nations in the gospel of Matthew 25:31–46 is such a refreshingly clear warning to the people of the world that how we treat “the least of these” equates to how we should be judged. In the passage, the Messiah is a shepherd who separates the people of the world into the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Confusingly “the least of these brothers of mine” is popularly restricted by Christian theologians to only include Christian “brothers of mine.” This convoluted interpretation makes the subject of the whole passage about how people should treat the least of the Christians, making Christian brothers central to the meaning of the parable, however, this passage includes only the following cast of characters in the following order:
- Son of Man (shepherd, the King) [1st]
- all the holy angels [1st]
- all the nations [1st]
- shepherd [2nd, 1st symbolic]
- sheep (on his right hand, the righteous, the blessed of my Father) [2nd, 1st symbolic]
- goats (those on the left hand, the cursed) [2nd, 1st symbolic]
- the king [3rd]
- the blessed (those on his right hand) [3rd]
- my Father [1st]
- the righteous (those on his right hand, the blessed of my Father) [4th]
- Lord (the king) [4th]
- the king [5th]
- one of the least of these my brothers [5th, but first introduction in ‘Christian brothers’ interpretation]
Why then if, according to the Christians-only interpretation, are we either righteous or cursed based on our actions towards the least of only the Christians and not “all the nations,” is there no prominence to Christians in particular as actual or symbolic characters in the parable? By the time the reference to “one of the least of these my brothers” is used, the key characters in the parable have been introduced directly, symbolically and indirectly. Taken plainly, the brothers and sisters of the son of man are the sons and daughters of men, not exclusively Christians, but “all the nations.”
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
As a further rebuttal to a crafty Christian centric interpretation of this passage, it would be less complicated to conclude that “The King” (who is not preaching directly to his brother disciples in this context but as the Messiah who sits “on his glorious throne”) when referring “the least of these my brothers” is talking about the least of his “holy angels” who have come “with him”. Complicated interpretations aside, this passage begins with “Before him all the people of the world will be gathered,” a straightforward and unsophisticated reading is simply that “one of the least of these brothers of mine” includes everyone and anyone.
Jesus is to a shepherd as everyone in the world is to sheep and goats, so a simple reading is to look at who is literally “the least of these brothers of mine.” We are equal human sons and daughters to only our fellow human beings but “the least of these” points at those who are ‘other’, as sheep and goats are other to a shepherd; those who are related to us, but in the order of power and advantage are different, “the least of these” in the context of what a shepherd is to sheep and goats, is the Son of Man telling us in clear imagery that our chance to be “blessed” and “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” depends on how we treat hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned: people with disabilities; immigrants; minorities and probably animals too.
To identify who “the least of these” are, let’s first figure out who they are not.
We can get a picture of who “the least of these” aren’t by looking at who we identify with as one of us: on our team, in our family, our political party. If we reserve our love for those who are us or who could benefit us, then we are excluding “the least of these”.
Are we ethical rebels, like Jesus, or are we afraid to oppose the crowd and so we cheer for the team of the beautiful predators just because they are successful and popular? Do we ever turn and defend the pray? Do our dreams include only our friends and family, do we identify with the ones that society ignores. Do we feed the very ones who need our protection to the ones who need no protection? Do we help only those who look like us? Do we avoid anyone who does not belong? Do we take care of those whose lives are ignored, those who are excluded, used as objects, looked down on, and devalued? I agree with Jesus on this, who I really am is ultimately defined by what I do for those who are uncool, unpopular, unsuccessful and unfortunate.
Isn’t it ironic though, that this group of individuals is so excluded and invisible that we have difficulty seeing who “the least of these” even are?
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 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; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘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.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not [a]take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”