According to Matthew, Jesus told this parable of God’s Rule. I should say that “Humane Ruler” is my translation of the literal “Son of Man” and that I have good reasons for it. It is perhaps the most political of all Jesus’ utterances.
25/31 “But when the Humane Ruler comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36 I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’
37 “Then the just ones will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’
40 “The King will answer them, ‘Amen I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters , you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you did not give me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’
44 “Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’
45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen I tell you, because you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the just into eternal life.”
We should note that it is “nations” that are gathered before the ruler and that the separation is national rather than individual; nations are judged, rather than persons. The ruler asserts his scandalous identity with the least important of his brothers and sisters, a folk story motif by which Gods or kings in disguise visit their realm incognito as poor people to see how they are treated. The actions by which the nations are judged may be encouraged or discouraged by the nation, but the actions themselves are personal acts of practical care. Jesus considers the nation blessed or cursed by the degree to which such care is provided. Care may be fostered and planned by the state but it must be delivered by people to people.
The categories of care are basic: hunger, thirst, nakedness, illness, imprisonment, together with the condition of being a stranger. Most of them are easily understood, but it’s worth pointing out the in Jesus’ time, people were rarely put in prison for a ordinary crime but were perhaps awaiting trial or had committed a political offence. A stranger might be a trader, soldier, slave, agent of Rome, itinerant philosopher or preacher.
Societies stand or fall by how their citizens provide this care Those who provide it do not do it for the Ruler but simply for people with no status in society. We note that the society could be good at everything else without altering its condemnation. The cause of the Ruler and the cause of the unimportant are identical; and the latter are not “deserving” just unimportant.
Once when I had preached on this text in church, an elder said to me as he left, “Thanks minister, I hope it’s not true.” He was more honest than most of us. If the judgement happened now there would be quite a number of people frying tonight.