The Least of These

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For some reason, the scripture Matt. 25:40 has kept coming to my mind lately.

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I’m not sure why though, but as I have been thinking of it, a question came to mind.

Often this scripture is used to illustrate the importance of service. This is particularly true when one considers the preceding verses discuss feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and ministering to the imprisoned.

What I wonder though is whether this scripture can go a little further than a surface reading.

Obviously, the Lord is speaking of the downtrodden: the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. I find it interesting he includes the imprisoned in this list of downtrodden.

The previous four groups of people seem to have tangible needs, or rather that which addresses their needs: food, water, clothes, and medicine.

I don’t know that the needs of the imprisoned are as tangible. Maybe that’s why we hear fewer stories of Christians taking care of the imprisoned than we do stories of food banks, clothing drives, or vaccination efforts.

That’s not really my point though. What this incongruousness makes wonder is whether the Lord is speaking of just those with tangible, physical needs. Is he also speaking of those with emotional or even social needs? Could “the least of these” also refer to minorities in our societies? Could Matt. 25:40 also be a call to stand up for those unrepresented in society?

7 thoughts on “The Least of These

  1. It says “the least of these my brethren”, and not “these the least of my brethren” which implies that the examples given are not exclusive.

    The ‘these’ is not applied to the group as a qualifier it is further explained to be ‘my brethren’.

    Using ‘these’ before ‘the least’ makes it sound more specific to these particular brethren i.e. those people with the listed problems.

  2. I recall, oh so very very long ago, the general Relief Society President (I think it was Barbara B. Smith) spoke at a BYU devotional. I distinctly remember her teaching this point, that there are many kinds of prisons that our brothers and sisters find themselves in, and that we have an obligation to come to where they are and visit them. What struck me at the time was the idea of meeting them not merely physically where they are, but also mentally and emotionally. It has been probably a quarter of a century since then, but whenever I read that passage in Matthew, I remember her words.

  3. No, I’m thinking of the talk on February 14, 1984. I looked it up after mentioning it here, and discovered that the idea that had so struck me was a mere sentence, almost in passing, and not “quite” on topic for this conversation (because she refers to prisons “of our own making”). But what I remember about that one single sentence buried in the middle of her talk is that the idea struck me so forcefully that when I returned to my dorm room that day I took time to look up the scripture in Matthew, and make a note in the margin. That set of scriptures is long gone (victim of small children in the interim) but the notation is burned in my heart. Funny that.

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