by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

March, 2017

A man sat on the sidewalk, dressed in shabby clothes, with his back against a wall. In his lap was a hand lettered cardboard sign, the kind we’ve all seen a thousand times. But this sign said “I don’t need $$ I just need somebody to talk to.” Time passed and nobody stopped, nobody noticed, nobody spoke to the man. No one at all. But he wasn’t what he seemed. He wasn’t down on his luck. Instead, he was a millionaire! The man, named Chris, had decided to conduct an experiment, to see if anyone would stop and talk to a stranger. He had purchased an extra ticket to the Grammy awards, which would take place later that day, and the first person to stop and speak to him would have been able to attend as his guest! But nobody did. Dozens of people passed by him, not knowing who he was or the opportunity they were ignoring.

Naturally, when I heard this story, I thought of the Bible passage from Matthew 25:31-46, about the final judgment. The king says to the people, “‘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.’” (vs. 45b ESV). And these people will “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (vs. 41a). They had opportunities to do good, to show kindness, but they failed (vs. 42-45), just as the people passing by ignored Chris and his sign.

There are different interpretations for this passage and for just who “the least of these” truly means. Most of us believe that anyone who is in need is “the least of these.” This is a view I share, as does our pastor, Kim. But there are others, such as pastor and writer Andy Horvath, and New Testament scholars Craig Keener and R. T. France, who believe that “the least of these” means other Christians, specifically missionaries and other disciples. (

Horvath claims this view is “more biblically accurate” but how accurate can an interpretation of scripture be that departs from the words of one who was “the Word” (John 1:14a)? Horvath and like-minded Christians claim that “. . . caring for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned isn’t taught elsewhere in the New Testament as the measuring stick for salvation. Can we really affirm that what ultimately matters is caring for the poor, not faith in Jesus?” But James wrote that “. . . faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17b). Caring for others may not be “the measuring stick for salvation” but a lack of caring certainly won’t promote it. Many of the people who passed by Chris would probably claim to be caring and compassionate. Some would even say they were Christians. In the same way, many of the people to whom Jesus addressed his parable would say they were good upstanding Jews, doing what the Law commanded. But in the end they failed and the king held them to account.

As we enter the season of Lent, we are encouraged to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to give food and drink, to welcome, to clothe, to visit, and forgive. We are called to live our faith and not simply talk about it, to share the gospel by being the gospel. The late Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote “. . . if we do not live the Gospel, we shall not succeed in preaching the Gospel!” (The Soul’s Awakening, “Exposition of Matthew 11:1-6”). And that is exactly what we are called to do, live the Gospel.

If the people passing Chris had known he was a millionaire, they would have undoubtedly stopped. If the people in Jesus’ parable had known they had the chance to minister to a king, they would have given him food and drink, welcomed him, clothed him, and visited him. The author of Hebrews wrote “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (13:2). Not only angels but millionaires and kings. As we go about our daily lives on our way through Lent, let’s treat others as we would treat the king of kings (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14, 19:19).

“‘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.”’” (Matt. 25:37-40 ESV.)

Copyright © 2017 by David Phelps