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...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

We do not always know when we are following Christ. Matthew reminds us here that what we do, how we act towards others, stands as the most crucial mark of our discipleship. The larger passage in which these verses occur (Matthew 25:31-46) describes Gods final judgment of the nations in apocalyptic terms: at the end times, when God will have prevailed over the forces of evil, everybody (all the nations- Matt 25:32) will be judged on equal terms. Who will be saved? The text is unambiguous with the answer: those who have ministered to Christ, even if unaware of it, by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick and the prisoner.

This exhortation stands firmly in the tradition of Israels prophets. Called to rouse people from their complacency in the face of specific political or social situations, the prophetic message carried a common theme: care for the poor, the orphan and widow, and the stranger in your midst.

These apocalyptic and prophetic themes underscore the urgency of this message, and can help to rouse us from our own complacencies. In a political and social climate in which people of other faiths and nationalities are viewed with suspicion or even hostility, we are called to a discipleship known through our treatment of the outcast and those in need. This passage reminds us of our Christian responsibility: secure in the knowledge of Gods grace, we are called and empowered to live the life of the coming reign of God here and now, a reign of justice for all people.

Kristin A. Swanson teaches at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

  • The righteous in Matthew 25 were surprised when Jesus told them that they fed and clothed and welcomed him whenever they fed and clothed and welcomed the least of these in their midst. Are we equally surprised by this judgment of Jesus?
  • What are some images we have of the final judgment?
  • How do we minister to Christ? How do others minister to Christ?

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