“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Scripture passage presented to us today is the most vivid of the parables that Jesus will use with his followers. Although the parable, in real parable form, uses images of sheep and goats the implication is clear. God will judge us based on how we treat others. I find it hard to believe that the meaning of this parable would have been lost on those that would have heard from the lips of Jesus. However, I see examples of the present day followers of Jesus ignoring these words.
The simple answer to the question of by what standard we will be judged by God is evident from this passage. God will judge us by our reaction to others in need. He places before them a scenario of people needing food, water, clothing, welcoming, etc. and presents it as if it was Jesus himself that was in need. The response to the presentation is where the judgment comes in. However, with that said I believe we judge ourselves God only passes sentence based on our behavior.
We will not be judged on the number of Scripture passages that we have been able to memorize. We will not be judged based on the level of fame that we have achieved in our lives. We will not be judged based on the size of our bank account. But we will be judged based upon the way we help those who are in need.
Sometimes I think that the only way we can help someone, or humanity in general, is by doing something extraordinary, but it is the simple things that God wants us to do. The parable presents a few ideas for us. We can provide food for the hungry. Maybe we bring a can of something to church or donate to food pantry not just around the holidays, but all year. We can welcome the stranger. The stranger does not have to be a refugee but maybe the new neighbor down the street or the new person at church. Maybe it is as simple as the warm smile to the stranger on the street. The idea is to give help to those that we meet every day in our family and the world. It does not have to be any more complicated than that.
This help needs to be uncalculated. We need to do this not expecting anything in return. We do not do this for the publicity or the tax write off; we do it because in our hearts we love the other that we encounter. God’s standard of judgment is the uncalculated mercy toward others. This kindness comes from a natural, instinctive reaction to a heart that loves. We hear the response in the parable from those Jesus is questioning, and they tell him that is they had known it was him they surely would have helped. It should not matter who needs help; all that matters is that we support them, without conditions. Help wins the approval of God when that support is given for nothing but the sake of helping.
In the parable, Jesus tells those listening that “inasmuch as you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” If we help those in need, we are in essence giving help to Jesus, not that he needs our help of course, but the converse is also true. If we withhold help from those in need, we are withholding help from Jesus. In other words, if we help our neighbor we are showing that we love God through our actions, but if we do not help our neighbor, or if we seek some condition on that help, then we are withholding our love for God. It costs us nothing to help, but its costs us everything not to help.
In the end, when we learn generosity of our time, talent, and treasure, which without calculation helps people in the simplest things, we too will know the joy of helping Jesus Christ.