Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
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,
a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least sisters or brothers of mine,
you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
Some readings strike me as safe and comforting choices for a funeral. Some seem gutsy. This passage is the latter. It comes at the conclusion of a two-chapter (Matthew 24-25) discourse on the Reign of God. Jesus is preaching in Jerusalem, and this final conclusion pretty much lays out God’s vision of who are worthy citizens of the coming Reign, and who are not.
On one level, this passage may be about a person of good works, a person who found the real presence of Christ among hungry people, thirsty people, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned people. To me, this section is as explicit as John 6. A lack of care for God’s “least ones” is as much a rejection of the Lord as walking out of the banquet feast on one’s own terms. Like Judas.
The passage is also deeply Christ-centered. It is the undeniable teaching of the Lord. It is a caution for all living believers: if you want the sure path to eternal life, follow this advice and care for the “least ones” as you would care for the Lord himself.
I would be nervous about this gospel getting preached at my funeral. But I’ve known people who were exemplars at Matthew 25. And I could see it as eminently suitable for them. What about you?