John L. Amstutz
Excerpts, from Doing Member Care Well, chapter 4
“Inasmuch as you have done it to one of these the least of My brothers, you have done it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Few verses are used more frequently than this verse by Christian humanitarian organizations…But is unconditional humanitarianism the point of the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25?...
Simply stated, the parable of the sheep and goats pinpoints the basis of judgment of the nations. Jesus, when He comes in His glory as the Son of Man, will separate the nations (ethne) of the earth into two groups, sheep and goats. The basis of this division will be their response to “the least of these my brethren.”…
A survey of commentators indicates that the majority hold “the least of these My brethren” to be oppressed and suffering humanity…But again, we ask, is such unconditional humanitarianism the point of the parable?...Who are Jesus’ brothers? Those who are hearers and doers of His word, namely, those who are His disciples who “continue in His word” (John 8:31). Such close identity of Jesus with His disciples is clearly taught in Matthew 10:40-42. "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives the one who sent me..." Therefore, one’s response to Jesus’ disciples is one’s response to Jesus Himself and to the Father who sent Him. Is not this reality the basis of Jesus’ question to Saul on the Damascus road, “Why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:1-5)?. Had not Saul’s persecution of believers in Jerusalem, in fact, been a persecution of Jesus Himself? It seems so.
If this is a proper interpretation of the word “brethren,” then the point of the parable of the sheep and goats is even more pointed...Apparently the universal proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom will be accompanied by a universal positive and negative response to that proclamation in that some will show kindness to persecuted believers/disciples while others will not...Such response to Christ’s messengers indicated their response to their message and to the One who had sent them, Jesus Himself.
The implications of such an understanding of this parable are significant. First, the parable assumes the universal preaching of the gospel is not optional in the plan of God. “Missions” is not an appendage on the Church’s agenda. It is essential. A worldwide witness is the foundation for the judgment of the nations.
Second, accompanying this universal witness to Jesus Christ will be persecution. Indeed, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12). Opposition for one’s faith in Christ is not just for believers in the Middle East and Asia. Christ’s disciples will be “hated by all nations” because they are in all nations.
Third, the place of hospitality and kindness toward followers of Jesus Christ is no small matter, particularly toward those who are being persecuted for their faith in Him. “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 12:3). “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 14:35). In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Let us do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Is it not time we free this pointed parable of the sheep and the goats to speak clearly and fully of the crucial place of the universal preaching of the gospel to every nation (ethne) and the opposition and persecution that will attend such preaching? And is it not time we free this pointed parable to speak clearly and fully of the essential need of intentional humanitarianism—member care—toward those who have chosen to suffer loss for their witness to Christ in these nations?
Humanitarianism with a point is the point, and the point is “for, inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it to Me”! And never has a proper understanding of this pointed parable been more important than it is as we enter the new millennium in which the Church increasingly focuses on the final frontiers, many of which are in risky and resistant areas.
Reflection and Discussion
**Do you agree with the author’s understanding of the identity of the “least of these My brethren”? Why or why not?
**What are some of the implications of the author’s understanding of the parable of the sheep and goats, for mission and for member care?
**What has been your response to persecuted followers of Christ?