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. ~Matthew 25:35-36 ESV
These words of Christ have “haunted” me for years, particularly since this statement is later contrasted with His declaration to those who did not do these things (it’s not a happy thing, btw).
And sometimes, I write to get the thoughts out of my head.
I know there is a practical application here. John the Baptist addressed it when he instructed the repentant among his audience to share their possessions and food; and to act in an honest and just manner while engaging in business and other public duties (Luke 3:10-14).
John (the beloved disciple) also wrote of the importance of acting in love rather than just talking about it. James also reminded readers of the necessity of living in a compassionate manner.
“But if anyone has the world’s good and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18 ESV).
Helping others in a practical way is certainly good thing.
However, in the greater context of scripture, there is deeper significance to what Jesus was saying. As always, He hit straight at the “heart” of the matter, regarding the motivation for doing such things. In fact, every material humanitarian effort He listed in Matthew 25 has a spiritual parallel that can be located elsewhere in scripture.
1. Food for the hungry: (Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD ~Deuteronomy 8:3; “I am the Bread of Life” ~ Jesus. John 6:36-51)
2. Drink for the thirsty: (Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinkis of the Water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The Water that I will give him will become in him a spring of Water welling up to eternal life.” ~ John 4:13-14 ESV)
3. Welcome the stranger (Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels (messengers of God) unawares.~ Hebrews 13:2 ESV)
4. Clothing the naked: Clothing, in scripture often represents righteousness before God. Or it depicts the glory of an honored position. Our need for physical covering reminds us that we must have a reliable way for our own unrighteousness to be seen by Him. When God had to send Adam and Eve from the Garden, His parting gift to them was clothing made from animal skins (Genesis 3). It was a reminder to them (and us) that God Himself would provide covering for their shame.
Ironically, we read in Luke 23:34 of both God’s covering love and the casting of lots for the earthly clothing of Christ, who hung naked and exposed during His crucifixion. (And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they known not what they do. And they cast lots to divide His garments. ~ Luke 23:34 ESV)
(See also “ Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends”. Proverbs 17:9 ESV; “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8)
5. Visit the sick: Those who do not know God are sick in their hearts. Even if they do not know it.
6. Go to the Prisoners: This is a difficult one to address, as I do not intend to belittle prison ministry in any way. But I want to highlight the fact that not all prisoners are locked away. In fact, there are far more individuals walking free who are literal prisoners to emotional disorders, various addictions, abusive relationships, compulsions to self-harm etc… Their souls are truly existing in a state of “hell” and they cannot find a way out on their own. And Jesus wants us to notice and go to them in love, praying that God will release them from their bondage, rather than stand back and judge them for not performing better. If His Life is flowing out of you like water, you will not be “contaminated” by these people. Just as Jesus was not contaminated by touching ceremonially unclean people in NT accounts. (“And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” ~ Jude 1:22-23 ESV)
The criteria for judgment in Matthew 25 is not “how many wonderful humanitarian works did you do?”
The measurement is whether such things were done “in Christ’s name”, with the intent to share hope for healing, given out of love for the soul of the other individual.