“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.” (Matthew 25:31 – 33)
This should be a clue – being on the right hand side of a ruler means you are within his favor. Being placed on the left hand side, however, means that you might be in for some hard times. So also the categorizing of sheep versus goats. Goats sound too much like that the strong sheep in the Old Testament passage that butted flank and shoulder.
“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.’ “ (Verses 34 – 40)
While this might be a metaphor, beloved reader, the needs in our world are real. When I was young, there were two types of mission work that were done. There was mission work done for “those people” who are in an other place and whose lives were lived out under conditions that I had no knowledge of. And there was mission work done to home people whose situation was more dire than mine, but who were close at hand. But there is a third type of mission work, and it is perhaps work that is less obvious. It is the task of being caring, giving and supportive to those who do not seem to be in need. Simple compassion and care for people who are already in your life. Needs are not always obvious, and suffering is not necessarily one that is a lack of resources. Having worked in the mental health field and social services field, I know that some needs are simply the need that one has for companionship and compassion. Jesus’ parable talks about the hungry and thirsty, the stranger from far away, those who have material needs, who are sick or in prison. But those needs are easy to see. But hunger and thirst in spirit, being alone in life and circumstances, being bereft of shelter from life’s harshness, being sick in mind and emotions, and being imprisoned in one’s downward spiraling thoughts are just as dire; and just as in need of mission and ministry.
“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.” “ (Verses 41 – 46)
We do not know, we cannot know, who the “least of these” are. We know, WE KNOW, what it is to be in need. Not the dire needs that are in this parable, but the small needs of life. And do not think for one minute that it is any less a blessing to minister to the small needs. Because sometimes it is the small needs of life that are overlooked. I have spent many years of my life working with people who have relatively “small” needs. And I know how important it is to meet those small needs. I used to be afraid that I would be the “goat” on the left hand side of the Lord. But I do not have that fear anymore.
You do not really need to go out of your way to minister, beloved reader. Need might literally be in your own backyard, or even in your own home. You know what you need in life, beloved reader, to be cared for and taken care of. Extend that care and concern to others. The “least of these” might already be someone you know! Shalom!