When was that?
When all is said and done, we will face judgment
It tells me that there will be great surprises on that day. Lots of people who were very confident of their condition will be undone. Lots of people who rated themselves very lowly will be astonished by their reception.
It tells me that the heart of Christianity is relationship with Jesus himself, which shows itself in loving, sacrificial care for others, in particular the poor and needy.
The stakes involved in our witness are eternal. The horrifying conclusion (25:46) is the damnation of people who did not actively embrace messengers of the gospel but nevertheless were oblivious to how they had offended God.
The sheep and the goats asked the same question
The sheep are blessed because of their good behavior. They cared for Christ, feeding him when he was hungry, giving him drink when thirsty, providing adequate clothing when he was ill-clad (gymnos, “needed clothes,” frequently translated “naked” but often meaning only with an undergarment), showing him hospitality when he was a foreigner (xenos; “stranger,” v. 35), and visiting him when he was sick or imprisoned. Here are three basic human needs, apart from salvation—food, shelter, and companionship.
Lord, when did we ever see you hungry? When the righteous (10:41; 13:43, 49) professed surprise and ignorance of their sixfold, merciful ministry, Jesus announced that it was done for him when it was done for one of his little brothers. The amazement of those on the King’s right hand is evidently due to their lack of recollection of ministering to Jesus when he was in need, but ministry to his people is regarded as ministry to him (10:40). This is the central principle of judgment in this passage (cf. Prov 19:17).
He goes on to speak of some of the things they have done in their lives on this earth. Four times this list is repeated in this and the following verses (it “is clearly meant to be remembered as a guide to practical discipleship,” France). We should not understand this in the sense that these good works have earned them their salvation; grace is as important throughout this Gospel as anywhere in the New Testament. Jesus is not saying that these are people whose good lives have earned them salvation as their right. He is saying that God has blessed them and brought them into his kingdom, and he proceeds to cite evidence that shows that they do in fact belong in that kingdom.67 Their lives are evidence that God has been at work in them. “I was hungry,” he says, “and you gave me food,” a kindly action for which the world has always provided scope. So with being thirsty and the need for something to drink. The stranger is always in a somewhat difficult position, and in first-century Palestine, with its lack of facilities like the hotels that in modern times we so easily take for granted, this was especially the case. Where would a stranger lodge when he came to an unfamiliar place?
The astonished questions of the righteous are the best evidence as to how far their thoughts are from any idea of merit on their part. They have, indeed, learned from the gospel to serve Christ, their King, in even the lowliest of his brethren. But when they now note infinite glory as their inheritance in the heavenly Kingdom, the award of this inheritance on the ground of such little works seems impossible to them. They kept no record of their works, they trusted solely in grace and forgot all their works. This is the truth that Christ brings out by means of these questions. It is further evidence to show how just and righteous the award he makes is.
Common view today is the brothers needing care are those who are needy in the world
In recent years, a more careful reading of the text has renewed the historic Christian interpretation that the compassion Jesus desired is compassion to believers in need.
But in the context of Jesus’ teachings, especially in the context of Matthew (as opposed to Luke), this parable probably addresses not serving the poor on the whole but receiving the gospel’s messengers.
This vigilance is shown by faithful stewardship (25:14–30). This stewardship is exercised in helping those in need, especially one’s brothers and sisters in Christ (25:31–46).
Hence, there remains no more pressing priority in this life than to respond properly to Jesus and his messengers by becoming disciples through faith in him.
Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One freezing day a beggar asked him for alms. Martin had no money, but, seeing the man blue with cold, he ripped his soldier’s cloak in half and gave one part to the beggar. That night he had a dream. He saw Jesus in the courts of heaven, wearing half his cloak. He heard an angel ask, ‘Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?’ And Jesus replied, ‘My servant Martin gave it to me.’
Who have you welcomed?
It tells me that I am accountable. I am free to live my life just as I please, but at the end I shall have to give account to the one who gave me my life.