We are now entering the endgame of Jesus’ ministry. In less than 24 hours, He will have His Last Supper with the disciples before being betrayed by Judas. This chapter, then, represents the last sermon that Jesus preached before He died for the sins of the world.
In this final address to His followers, Jesus closes with two of His most famous - and chilling - parables. In one, a master goes away on a journey leaving his considerable wealth in the care of his servants. Two servants invest wisely, yielding a considerable return. The other - either because he was foolish or lazy - simply buries the investment and earns nothing. Once the master returns, the servants who invested are rewarded, but the one who did nothing is cast out into darkness.
Many of Jesus’ parables are real head-scratchers and are difficult to interpret. This one isn’t. Jesus is telling His followers - pretty bluntly - that He is about to go away, and that He expects them to work hard in His absence. His Kingdom has no need of citizens who “bury their gifts” and let talent go to waste. The King is returning some day, and He will want to see what we have done with the blessings He has given us.
In case the disciples were wondering what, exactly, Jesus expected them to do, Jesus immediately tells another story - not really a “parable” so much as a prophecy. In this one, Jesus - playing the Judge at the end of days - separates the righteous “sheep” from the unrighteous “goats.” How did Jesus decide which was which? The Lord tells us explicitly: those who feed the poor, cloth the naked, welcome the foreigner, visit the imprisoned and look after the sick are deemed righteous and are given eternal life. Those who did not are told to depart… forever.
This is normally where I would reveal some hidden, deeper meaning of the passage, but not this time. This is not some fancy metaphor or allegory. The passage is clearer than crystal - our Lord says to be a citizen in His Kingdom means to take care of those in need. He was about to give His life to save the world. If we claim to follow Him, we have to be willing to do the same.
To reject those who need our help is to reject Him.