Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Least of These

DAY 40

Morning Reading - Leviticus 7-9
Evening Reading - Matthew 25:31-46

Today we read one of the most profound passages of Matthew's gospel - the apocolyptic vision of the final judgment, in which God will separate the "sheep" from the "goats." In this vision, God's judgment is based on how we respond to the needs of "the least of these," those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, and sick. Jesus makes the startling declaration that in serving those less fortunate than us, we are actually serving Jesus himself. Therefore, the church's ministry of compassionate outreach is not simply another social justice initiative, but is rather an expression of our relationship with Christ and a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of God.

Some have been concerned that this passage promotes a mindset of "works-righteousness," the notion that it is by our good deeds that we earn our entrance into heaven. However, I don't believe that this is the case. First of all, those described in the parable do not know that they are serving Christ through their actions; they are unaware of their own righteousness. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:3, their "left hand doesn't know what their right hand is doing." So it seems clear that their good deeds were not done in order to earn the favor of the King. Therefore, if we interpret this passage in light of the larger theological framework of the New Testament, it makes more sense that the good deeds are being done in repsonse to God's grace and love. As my study bible points out, "The righteous will inherit the kingdom not because of the compassionate works that they have done but because their righteousness comes from their transformed hearts in response to Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom, as evidenced by their compassion for the “least of these."

We are challenged by Jesus to live out our faith in the service of others. This ministry of service requires sacrficial giving on our parts as we seek to care for "the least of these" in our communities. It is no accident that Jesus concludes his teaching ministry with this parable. As we enter into the passion narrative, in which Jesus will be betrayed and crucified, we discover that Jesus himself embodies this life of service and sacrifice. As we align our lives with Christ we are at the same time aligning ourselves with "the least of these" in our midst.

1 comment:

  1. I found the above blog to very moving and thought-provoking. I am going to re-read the passage and ALL the footnotes. Thanks.