Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The least of these-- who are they?

The New Interpreter’s Bible offers a balanced summary of the scholarly disagreement regarding the identity of “the least of these brothers of mine” in Matthew 25: 31-46.  Are the least one “(a) the world’s needy generally or (b) specifically Christians or Christian missionaries”?

The NIB concludes that originally Jesus was speaking about the needy in general, and that later Matthew focused this universal theme to a single point— “the reception of Christian missionaries.”  In order words, both interpretations can be supported.

Reading the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned as itinerant evangelists was an unfamiliar perspective, but the reading rang true as I considered the entire parable with this interpretation in mind.  The deprivations faced by the parable’s least ones were potential hazards risked by Jesus’ preachers.  Doing for (or neglecting) one of these brothers is doing (or not) for the Heavenly Judge.  The nations who care for one of the Gospel-bearers are welcomed into the Judge’s heavenly kingdom.  The nations who neglected the least of these are punished by the Judge.

Wesley’s Notes for Matthew 25: 40 first favors the Christian specific interpretation and then posits a universal implication—“What encouragement is here to assist the household of faith But let us likewise remember to do good to all men.” 

As United Methodists, we should teach the dual-identity of the least of these rather than favoring one interpretation over the other.


John Meunier said...

I'd not reviewed that note by Wesley before. As so often, I find his counsel wise.

Laura Felleman said...

Thanks for the comment, John, and Happy New Year. And thanks to the staff at NNU's Wesley Center for making Wesley's Notes available online.