Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34–40 ESV)
I used to be among those who are bothered by the misuse of this passage. While I absolutely love the ones who uses this passage to encourage the Church to care for the poor and needy in the society, I always think it is still important to understand the “least of these my brothers” as a reference to our brothers and sisters in Christ, since throughout the New Testament, “brothers” are used constantly as those who belong to the family in Christ,
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50 ESV)
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17. ESV)
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20–21 ESV)
But gradually, I have realised it doesn’t matter (perhaps it does, but not to a degree of stubbornness), for the “the least of these” – be it the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, or the naked, may very well be our brother or sister tomorrow. Even more so, our acts of love often times are actually the channels where people come to taste and find the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ.
It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we love those around us as Jesus Christ would love them. We love them in a way that we acknowledge they are just like us, created originally in His likeness to be loved and pursued by God; and simultaneously, to love and pursue God. It is not our job to guess or determine whether one will come to faith in the end or not; we are simply called to love our God (and therefore our brothers and sisters because of our union with Him) and our neighbours.