Many years ago, when I was in seminary I came across a help wanted ad in the back of a Christian magazine. “Pastor Wanted: No Social Gospel.” I had to read it five or six times to make sure it wasn’t a misprint. It seemed to me that the folks at this church had a confused view of just what the Gospel is. The Gospel is nothing if it is not social.
Throughout scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, we are instructed that as people of God we have a responsibility to intervene for good in society. Phrases like, “seek justice,” “defend the oppressed,” “look after orphans and widows,” are scattered across the Bible.
God’s love, demonstrated in the life and work of Jesus and living in us, is such a powerful force that it compels us to share it in tangible ways with the world around us in hopes that they too will come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel.
Shortly before He was betrayed, arrested, tried, crucified and resurrected, Jesus told his disciples a story about sheep, goats and the Son of Man coming in glory. The crux of the story is the separating of the sheep and the goats and their ultimate destinations. The only difference between the two groups in this story is how they reacted to those in need, “the least of these brothers of Mine.”
The story seems pretty straightforward to me. Those of us who know Jesus, love Him and claim Him as savior and lord will be motivated to act out of the same love and compassion that He shows for us. And that action will be targeted at any who are in need, primarily in need of the truth of the Gospel, but those in physical or emotional need as well. Those listed in this story include people who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, sick, naked and imprisoned.
Yet there are those who read this passage and argue that Jesus’ use of the word “brothers” means our compassion is to be extended to fellow believers and, some argue, them alone. I’ve read quite a few commentaries on this portion of scripture, Matthew 25:31-46, many written by people smarter and more educated than me. Still, their interpretation reminds of the lawyer who asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” in Luke chapter 10.
Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The lawyer answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this and you will live.” But the lawyer, “wishing to justify himself,” asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” That last question led Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I guess my point here is that we shouldn’t worry about who exactly Jesus meant by “the least of these my brothers.” If He meant only fellow Christians, which I seriously doubt, and we show a little mercy and compassion to those who are not Christians, where’s the harm? But if Jesus meant anyone in need, which I suspect is much closer to what He had in mind, and we limit our acts of love to believers we risk missing out on blessing God in the guise of someone in need.
This week I’ll be sharing this story of the sheep and the goats during Middays Prayer Time, weekdays around 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM.
Mon 05/24/21 Matthew 25:31-36
Tue 05/25/21 Matthew 25:37-40
Wed 05/26/21 Matthew 25:41-46
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