Prof. Josh Overbay – “Who Are the ‘Least of These’?”
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:34-40
This passage is frequently used as a call to social action, a call to give priority to those in need. Jesus clearly states that His followers will be evaluated based on how we act towards the “least of these.” His examples remind us that the kingdom of heaven is expanded through acts of charity, compassion, and kindness towards the poor and hungry.
However, I wonder if we limit the definition of “the least of these” to those who only physically suffer. Don’t get me wrong, we should do everything in our power to eliminate unnecessary physical suffering, but surely there are other types of suffering which can be demoralizing and damaging. How do we respond to those?
Should we not look around us and ask who are “the least of these?” Where are the outsiders? Where are those who don’t fit in, who sit quietly in the corners?
At Asbury, where are those who don’t exactly “fit” into our community? What about those who may not meet our spiritual or behavioral standards? Are we attentive to them? Do we prioritize the easily ignored?
Jesus’ behavior models the idea that we should not only prioritize those in physical need, but also those in emotional or spiritual. So, what does this look like for us on a practical level?
If we aren’t asking this question, we certainly should begin to. The way we act towards “the least of these” may determine Jesus’ ultimate happiness with us.
- Prof. Josh Overbay, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts