Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
Most Christians know that this is the second half of an entire passage where Jesus awards those who helped the poor and punishes those who didn’t. I purposefully quoted only the second half because I think most Christians focus on the first half and end up twisting the lesson of this important passage; it becomes “Help the poor if you want to be blessed” rather than “Help the poor if you want to be blessed and do nothing if you want to be cursed.”
Jesus identifies with the homeless, the poor, the fugitives, the disadvantaged- people who are often marginalized in society. He was born to a teenage mom who technically got pregnant before she got married; he and his family were fugitives who had to flee from Herod; during his ministry, he had no home, no income, no food unless someone provided; and though he was popular with the crowd that followed him, he was a problem in the eyes of those who had power.
Because of these experiences, Jesus feels so close to those who are marginalized, who lack essentials. That bond makes him feel that what they received, he received and what they suffer, he suffered. That’s why he blesses those who did something and curses those who didn’t do anything for the needy in this passage. Notice that Jesus divides people into those who did something and those who did nothing- it’s not those who helped the poor and those who harmed the poor. I emphasize this point because most people think only those who harm others are rejected by Jesus. Doing nothing doesn’t put you in a neutral team; it puts you on the same team as those who hurt the poor.
Here’s the good news. Jesus sees every effort you made to help the unfortunate. And I feel that there are many opportunities to do so- Jesus did say that “You will always have the poor among you…” (Matt 26:11). Here are some ways I can think of to be on Jesus’ right when the time comes:
1. Pray for a heart that cares for the unfortunate- the Jesus I know tends to focus on the heart condition rather than the deed. And it’ll be so much easier to actually help the poor, the oppressed if you actually have a heart for them. So ask God for the right heart.
2. Be aware of the injustices in our world- a lot of times we try to stay inside our own bubbles where the biggest problems are our own; and our problems often aren’t life-or-death ones. It’s SUPER uncomfortable when we realize that a lot of people in the world often face life-or-death situations… and it’s easy to feel hopeless when we realize there’s little we can do about those problems. But DON’T stay in that feeling of hopelessness; rather be humbled and realize that we need God for this world to become a better one. Go to God for help.
3. Choose one issue and do something- let’s be real. You can’t solve all the problems in the world; you probably can’t even solve a single issue on your own. But you can choose one issue and put all your effort to do something about it. For me, this single issue is homelessness. There’s really little I can do to solve this issue at this moment. But I’m trying to take people from my fellowship to Skid Row so they can see the oppression that exists so close to our campus and start growing a heart for the homeless. Maybe in the future, one of these people or I will do something bigger to help the homeless.
I didn’t provide specific practical steps one can take to help the unfortunate. But I think the most important part is to go to God for help. I’m sure that if you ask God for a heart for the poor He’ll give you more than just a heart- He’ll guide you so that you can do something about these issues. Because that’s what He wants- for His people to be the good news to the marginalized.