For many years now, Christians have been accused of not caring about the poor. “All you care about is saving their souls, while they’re starving to death!” is the cry. This is sometimes a bogus charge, but not always. To any degree that it’s true, however, it’s a failure to read and obey our Bibles. Jesus was concerned about the whole man: body, soul, and spirit (or however you designate the parts of us). He taught and preached, but he also looked out for physical needs as well. This doesn’t mean that every church is meant to become a food-bank and homeless shelter, but it does mean we need to take passages like today’s very seriously.
To be fair, there are Bible teachers, whom I respect, who think that this passage applies only to the End Times. At the end of days, they say, Israel will be persecuted as never before, and Jesus will judge the people who lived during that time as to how they treated the Jewish people (“these brothers and sisters of mine”). There is a case which can be made for that interpretation, but I think the point should be expanded to today as well.
By the way, this is a textbook case of the need to take the entire Bible in context and to use other hermeneutical skills. If you just had this passage to go on, then you could easily come to the conclusion that the way to get into heaven is by taking care of the poor. That’s why we have the book of Romans: To tell us explicitly how to get back into a right relationship with God. The point of this passage is not to tell us how to deal with our sin problem, but to tell us how the Lord expects his children to live. We show our spiritual parentage in how we act. God’s children should always be on the outlook for opportunities to serve Christ by serving others.
Now, literally, is every poor person a “brother” of Jesus? No. The Bible plainly teaches that no one is naturally born into God’s family. We're all born as spiritual children of Satan until we're adopted into Jesus’ family. But in as much as we display Christ’s love in practical ways to those in need, Jesus counts it as doing it for him and unto him.
Michael Card has a beautiful song about this issue: “Distressing Disguise.” He says “Every time a faithful servant serves/ a brother that’s in need/ What happens in that moment is a miracle indeed/ As they look to one another in an instant it is clear/ Only Jesus is visible/ for they’ve both disappeared. . . In his distressing disguise/ He hopes that we realize/ That when we take care of the poorest of them/ We’ve really done it to him.” Here's the whole song for your edification.
So how is Jesus in “disguise” around you? What opportunities has he given to you to serve him?
Lord Jesus, there is so much need in the world, and I’m only one man. I know you don’t expect me to solve all the hunger problems in the world, but there are people you cause to cross my path everyday, who need to be shown your love in a physical act of service. Please give me a servant’s heart, please give me a heart like yours.