Jesus was at it again. After a scathing criticism of the religious leaders (Matthew 23), speaking about the future (Matthew 24), and using two parables to teach on the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:1–30), He turned His thoughts to the final judgment. According to the narrative, when the Son of Man comes in His glory “and all the angels with Him, then He will sit upon His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in His presence, and He will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at His right hand and the goats at His left” (Matthew 25:31–33, NLT).
However, what was interesting was the conversation between the Son of Man and the two groups. To those on the right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me” (vv. 34–36). In bewilderment, the “righteous ones” replied, “‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'” (vv. 37-40).
The conversation with the group on the left was different! While the first group was “blessed of my father,” the King would “turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons'” (vv. 41-42). What was their sin? In the same situations, they failed to respond in the manner the first group did. Bewildered, they would ask, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and not help you?’ And He will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me'” (vv. 44–45). Stop and think about that for a while. Of the group, Jesus concluded, “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life” (v. 46).
For followers of Jesus, this teaching should cause us to reflect on and examine the things we deem to be important. The group on the left was not condemned because of their position on matters of doctrine, theology, worship songs, dress style, or any of the many other things we often disagree on, as important as some of those things might be. It is easy to forget that we are blessed to be a blessing to others and that we are the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are in need. Jesus placed great priority on how we treat people, especially those in disadvantaged situations. In other words, there can be no true worship without genuine care for and practical responses to the suffering of others around us. Those are God’s priorities, and we would all do well to make them ours as well. “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”