In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus claims that He is the true recipient of our love, or lack of love, for our neighbor.
I used to look at this passage and determine that my charitable giving, kindness towards others, and general awareness of poverty, firmly placed me on the side of the sheep.
This was before I started attempting to understand what life is like for others.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 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. 35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 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.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” -Matthew 25:31-46
Who are the "least of these"?
Jesus gave us a variety of examples to define who "the least of these" are. He wanted us to know that it was not just one particular type of person in poverty, in need, or being oppressed that He expects us to care for. He wanted us to know that it is all poor, marginalized, immigrant, sick, struggling people that He claims are the "least of these".
I attempted to understand what life is like for someone who earns dramatically less than I do. I thought about my family. I tried to imagine if I would be able to support my family on a minimum wage salary here in the USA. Would I be able to support my family with a safe place to live, healthy food, good education, and good healthcare on $7.25/hr (Current federal minimum wage)? In my mind, that would be impossible.
What about people living in a developing country? Would I be able to support my family with a safe place to live, healthy food, good education, and good health care for less than $2/hr in a developing country? $2/hr? I doubt it.
Let's consider the lives of the least of these the way Jesus does, meaning that how we treat them is analogous to treating Jesus that way. What would be a fair wage to pay Jesus?
Would I be okay paying Jesus $2/hr and having Him work in a hazardous factory in a developing country? "Thank you Jesus for working a hard 8 hours today, here's $16 for your days work."
Would I be okay with paying Jesus $8/hr working here in the USA? What sort of housing would He be able to afford? Would His employer provide healthcare? Sick days?
Would I be embarrassed seeing Jesus at one of the places I shop and say to Him, "No, Jesus, you deserve better! Here we're going to fix this. You should be paid more. You should get health benefits."?
Whatever the wage being paid to the least of these is the wage being paid Jesus.
Whatever wages, conditions, and benefits I would consider good enough for Jesus is what I should be wanting for my neighbors, the least of these.
What would I want Jesus to get paid?
Why do I feel comfortable giving God's money to companies who don't do this? Why do I give God's money to companies who don't pay their employees a living wage? Why do I give God's money to companies who purchase from suppliers that pay below living wage, force overtime for no extra pay, expose their workers to hazardous chemicals, and don't allow their workers to unionize?
This idea hit me hard. It makes me think that "living wages" are basically the bare minimum.
At the very least, let's purchase only products that have been produced by paying a living wage. If we can buy products that are produced by paying better than a living wage, that is what we should be using God's money to buy. Isn't that what I would want for Jesus?