The Least of These

by Jacob Sparks

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Give to every one who begs from you… and lend, expecting nothing in return…
— Luke 6:30, 35

If there is one thing Christ loves doing, it is shattering our expectations (1). The Gospels are full of instances where he does so: though being God before all ages and the king of all, he chooses to be born in humble circumstances, in a manger in a cave in Bethlehem. Though being esteemed as a holy man and a good itinerant Rabbi, he chooses to associate himself with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the worst of sinners. Though being held as a political revolutionary who would save the Jews from Roman oppression, he states that his kingdom of not of this world (John 18:36). Though being omnipotent and the creator of all, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” and subjects himself to the brutality and torture of the cross (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is never quite the person we expect him to be, and his kingdom is not what we had imagined.

It should perhaps catch us as no surprise, then, that when Jesus tells us his only parable about the last judgement, he chooses to associate himself with the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. The parable is from Matthew 25:31-46, and I highly recommend reading it in its entirety:

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, 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 no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
— Matthew 25:31-46

What exactly does this parable mean? Summarized briefly, the parable is stating that we will be judged based on how we take care of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the prisoners precisely because God sees himself in the lowliest and most broken of people. They are icons of Christ, and what we do to them, we do to Christ.

The times I have volunteered to serve the poor at a homeless shelter, I know that I often have had the opposite mentality. I tend to view myself as being Christ to that person, and that they are the one in the need of Christ. But this is not what Jesus says in his parable; indeed, he says precisely the opposite of this. Jesus tells me that the person I am helping is him, and that I am the one in need of his help.

I can further see this incorrect perspective in myself when I pass a homeless person on the street. I will begin to make excuses when I see them holding their signs asking for money or food from a distance, thinking to myself, “I don’t have that much money, I’m a college student after all. They’re probably just going to spend it on booze anyways, I shouldn’t give anything to them.” And perhaps my thoughts are correct: many of the homeless are drug addicts or alcoholics, and there is a good chance any money I give will be wasted. However, I eventually came to the realization that none of that matters. Jesus did not just die for those who are homeless because they were unfairly laid off or for those in prison because they were falsely accused; he also died for those who are homeless because they wasted their money on drugs and alcohol, and he died for the prisoners who are there because they got what they deserved (2). St. Paul understood that Christ had given himself up for us even though we did not deserve it:

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:6-8

One of the things that changed my mind about how to view those that are homeless is the example of Father Jacob Myers, a priest of blessed memory in the Atlanta area who founded a ministry to help feed them. Father Jacob would not only give money to those who begged from him, but also ask them to pray for him, because he considered them to be closer to God than he was (3). I think we are wise to follow his example and do likewise.

As Orthodox Christians, we are obligated to help those who are less fortunate in worldly wealth than us because when we help them, we are helping Christ. By doing so, we begin to obey Christ’s commandments and become like him:

And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
— Luke 6:34-36

May God grant us to be as merciful to others as he is to us.

1: Here I am paraphrasing something said in Bible Illustrated’s video, “Harlots and Pharisees.” Click here to see the video.

2: I am basing my thoughts here off of Fr. Silviu Bunta’s lecture given at Orthodox Christian Fellowship’s College Conference East in 2018.

3: Fr. Jacob’s ministry, Loaves and Fishes, is still active to this day. Click here to view more information about how to volunteer or donate to the ministry.