The Christmas season
Sermon preached at the service for the opening of the
Westphalian State Synod / Jürgen Tiemann 00, 2004-11-14
Pastoral letter for Switzerland’s Dank‒,
Buss-‒ und Bettag [Day of Thanks, Atonement and Prayer]/ The Swiss bishops 00, 2006
The eternal existence of every human being.
Pfarrei Sempach [Sempach Pastorate] cycle of
sermons / Marco Mona, lawyer, Zurich 00, 2005-10-30
"To the extent that you did it to one of
these brothers of Mine, even the least of them…" / Article, Roberto J. De
Comments on "To the extent that you
did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them…" / Various
Christmas is here once again. And as surveys reveal, in the Christian West the true
biblical and spiritual background to this Christian festival is something that most children and
young people ‒ and I am afraid they are not alone! ‒ have misundestood or are completely
ignorant of. Anyone who has time for any kind of spiritual background to Christmas associates it
rather with Father Christmas or Santa Claus ‒ a figure with a big bushy beard, a red outfit
and a sled drawn by reindeer. ‒ Ho, ho, ho! And let’s not forget all those nice presents
which any self-respecting family is bound to have under the Christmas tree ‒ never mind the
This ritual is also of course going to include the many "reflective" words which are designed to shock hearers, viewers and readers for a brief moment out of their complacency and put them in the right mood to donate money to various charitable appeals. At least on this occasion some reference to the Bible is going to be found. This underlines the integrity of the author, and puts what he has to say in an authentic light.
And so people are fond of quoting the words of Jesus Christ in the gospels ‒ words that actually refer to the Last Judgment when all peoples will be judged after the resurrection at the end of the world, but which seem particularly impressive at this Christmas season.
To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me..
Mt 25,31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the
angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 25,32 "All the nations will be
gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep
from the goats; 25,33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 25,34
"Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 25,35 ‘For I was
hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a
stranger, and you invited Me in; 25,36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I
was in prison, and you came to Me.’
25,37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 25,38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 25,39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 25,40 "The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Mt 25,31-40;
I would like to illustrate the different approaches to this passage by looking at
some quotations both from men of the church and from worldly commentators, and confront their
positions with the true biblical background.
First of all, then, an extract from the sermon on this theme by Superintendent Jürgen Tiemann, given at the service for the opening of the Westfälische Landessynode [Westphalian State Synod] on 11.14.2006 in Bielefeld-Bethel:
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
Grace be with you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. From the
gospel for next Sunday, from Matthew 25. Jesus speaks: “To the extent that you did it to one
of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” (Matth. 25,40)
My dear sisters and brothers! In the time when countries were ruled by monarchies, it was a charming fantasy for poets and thinkers (like William Shakespeare, for instance) that the ruler might disguise himself as a simple monk or ordinary man of the street in order to hear what people were saying in his kingdom. The knowledge arrived at in this way ‒ knowledge he could never have acquired by sitting in his palace ‒ proved beneficial to the ruler, and to the ruled as well.
This imaginary change of role and shift of perspective contains ‒ and not just from the point of view of a powerless poet ‒ a recommendation of critical social import. When the lord of the manor finds out under what painful and difficult conditions his serfs have to labor, then he will speak and decide differently in future. When people sense that their leaders are acutely conscious of their position, understand it and endeavor to improve it, they will be more likely to acknowledge them and feel confidence in them, or even be inclined to lend them their support. A shift of perspective can, systemically seen, change a rigid social structure in a positive way, moving it in the direction of a flexible and viable self-organizing entity.
This force for change that results from a shift of perspective is what Jesus’ saying is about, when he identifies himself with the least of his brothers.
1. In that I recognize the other person, I see myself and my task in a new light, I am liberated from restrictions and self-preoccupation. In the present situation, clearly defined tasks are beneficial for us as an evangelical church, in as much as they indicate to us the people who need our help.
2. But in that Jesus identifies himself with the least of his brothers and invites us to a shift of perspective, a change of our inner attitude may also be intended here. The achievement of politically and ethically correct standards is certainly a success, but it remains cool in terms of feeling. In some circumstances the persons affected may feel too little of the respect and love which they may perhaps need. If I put myself in the position of another person, I notice that I would not like to be acknowledged just for the sake of someone’s political or Christian ideals.
3. For Jesus what is important is deeds of mercy towards the least of our brothers, and the consequences. The announcement of the judgment ‒ which is the context of this saying about the least of our brothers in Matthew ‒ almost points a minatory index finger to indicate to us how important works are. We evangelicals have a problem with this. Theologically speaking, a lot of objections have been made against the idea of judgment. People can easily abuse this idea for their own purposes and for the sake of apparently objective negative judgments. In history many have fallen prey to the temptation to play the role of world judge themselves.
Superintendent Jürgen Tiemann, sermon given at the service for the opening of the Westfälische Landessynode [Westphalian State Synod] on 11.14.2006 in Bielefeld-Bethel
As we see here, these words of the Lord’s in Mt 25,40 also easily lend themselves
to abuse by preachers for their own purposes. Here the preacher interprets this saying as an
invitation to a “shift of perspective” ‒ probably because he wants to bring about and
justify a clearer definition of tasks “in the present situation of the evangelical church”.
But Jesus is not inviting us here to a shift of perspective! We do not need to reinterpret anything in this passage! The Lord means exactly what he says: “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me”. ‒ Christ is actually in every truly believing Christian. And whatever we do to one of the least of these Christians, we have thus done it to the Lord as well. This is proved by the following pronouncement of the Lord’s.
In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
Jn 14,19 "After a little while the world will no longer see Me,
but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 14,20 "In that day you will know
that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Jn 14,19-20;
Jürgen Tiemann says ‒ quite correctly ‒ that “for Jesus what is important is deeds of mercy towards the least of our brothers”, but he falsifies, consciously or unconsciously, the object of this sentence. It is not the least as such, but the least of his (Jesus’) brothers (adelphos in Greek), of whom the Lord is speaking here. The first people whom the Lord called his brothers were the apostles. This can also be demonstrated by reference to various of the Lord’s sayings:
Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galileea!
Mt 28,8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran
to report it to His disciples. 28,9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up
and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 28,10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be
afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see
Me." Mt 28, 8-10;
Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.
Jn 20,17 Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not
yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My
Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’" Jn 20,17;
For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother
Mt 12,49 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,
"Behold My mother and My brothers! 12,50 "For whoever does the will of My Father who
is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." Mt 12,49-50;
Those who do the will of the Father who is in heaven, these are the brothers of the Lord. These were the twelve disciples to begin with, then the extended group of disciples, and from that time to this it is still, without any change, all those rightly believing Christians who believe in the Father in heaven and do his will.
So that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.
Rom 8,29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become
conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,
Hbr 2,11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are
all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 2,12
saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the
congregation I will sinf your praise." Heb 2,11-12;
And so this Superintendent of the evangelical church seems to have completely missed
the point of this parable ‒ or he has failed to understand it. The Lord speaks here of the
least of his brothers. It may well be true that the godless world likes to reinterpret
this along the lines of the text of the European anthem, “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” [“All
men will become brothers”]. But that changes nothing in the actual content of these words. The
brothers of Jesus Christ are the Christian faithful, and not just any people you may care to choose
who have never given a thought to God for the whole of their lives and who now suddenly ‒ just
to fit in with the Christmas spirit ‒ are to be understood as being “brothers” of the Lord
(and of us Christians!).
If the authors cited in the present document, who evidently want to declare all human beings Jesus’ brothers, were to come into a great inheritance, and suddenly some person were to turn up and claim to be their brother, saying he wanted his share, probably they would be less generous in their interpretation of this “brotherhood”. But when it is a matter of identifying the brothers of Jesus Christ, they declare the whole world to be brothers of the Lord free of charge. Even when it is these very same “brothers” who are persecuting, oppressing and ostracizing 250 million Christians worldwide.
And so we do not actually find a single author in the following quotations who touches on the essential truth of this parable. They all hurl themselves on that reference to “brothers”, while zealously overlooking the actual relationship that is meant. Well, wouldn’t it be embarrassing if we were to tell all these objects of pity ‒ the “socially disadvantaged”, the “discriminated homosexuals” and other “brothers” of that kind ‒ that they must first come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Redeemer before they can be entitled to count themselves among the brothers of the Lord?
If he refuses to listen even to the assembly, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Mt 18,15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private;
if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 18,16 "But if he does not listen to you, take one
or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.
18,17 "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if he refuses to listen even to
the assembly, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Mt 18,15-17;
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?
1Cor 5,11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called
brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a
drunkard, or a
swindler - not even to eat with such a one. 5,12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do
you not judge those who are within the church? 5,13 But those who are outside, God judges.
Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. 1Cor 5,11-13;
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
Dear brothers and sisters,
In the reading today we have heard the serious admonition of Saint James, which must always present new challenges to us all: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? ... If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (Jam 2,14-16). And Jesus says the same thing to us in his parable of the Last Judgment, with which we are all familiar (Mt 25,31-46). The Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the peoples of the earth are gathered before him. He separates them from one another as a shepherd parts the sheep from the goats. To the one group he says, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father...” and to the others he says, “Depart from me, accursed ones...” Those present ask what this judgment is all about, and the blessed and the accursed are equally surprised by the answer. The only criterion of this judgment is our attitude to the hungry and thirsty, to strangers and the homeless, to people who are naked, sick or in prison. Jesus identifies himself with the least of his brothers. He can be found in the weak and the lost, in the hungry and the poor.
Pastoral letter of the Swiss Bishops on the occasion of Switzerland’s Dank-, Buss- und Bettag [Day of Thanks, Atonement and Prayer], 2006
Although here the Catholic bishops of Switzerland start their pastoral letter by
talking of our brothers and sisters who are in need of help, and so, in a purely grammatical sense,
reproduce the words of the Lord correctly, in their further interpretation they then deviate from
the biblical text just as seriously as do all the commentators quoted here. They write of “the
hungry and thirsty… strangers and the homeless... people who are naked, sick or in prison” and
so give the impression (perhaps deliberately?) that the brothers of the Lord are to be identified
with all the unbelieving, godless and criminal people of the entire world.
But even more serious is the assertion of the Swiss bishops that our attitude to these “hungry and thirsty” and so on is the only criterion for the way we are judged at the Last Judgment. If we read through the relevant biblical passages, we come to a very different conclusion. In Rev 20,12-15 we find a relatively detailed account of this judgment, and here we are told:
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.
Rev 20,12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before
the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life;
and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
20,13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were
in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 20,14 Then death and
Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 20,15 And if
anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Rev
In the above passage (Rev 20,12-15) we have a description of the Last Judgment referred to by the Swiss bishops, and we see from Rev 20,12 that several books are involved in the verdict. First the books of works, containing the works and deeds which people have accomplished in their lives, and in accordance with which they will first of all be judged. This very passage forms the basis for the view of some Christian circles (including the Catholic church) that human beings can be saved by the righteousness of their works. But as we find out in what follows, the books of works are only the first phase of the judgment. For now the book of life is opened, and anyone whose name is not found in it ‒ never mind what his works have been like in other respects and in complete contradiction with the above statement by the Swiss bishops ‒ is eternally lost. The basis for this entry in the book of life is explained to us by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1Cor 3,11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which
is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 3.,12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with
gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 3,13 each man’s work will become evident; for
the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the
quality of each man’s work. 3,14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will
receive a reward. 1Cor 3,11-14;
(See also Chapter 13: “The Last Judgment”)
Be it noted that it is not just a matter here, in the first part of the judgment, of
a person’s works in isolation. It is really about people’s lifelong attitudes: what people have
thought, believed, wished for, condemned, hoped for, wanted, loved and damned. All these immaterial
attitudes of mind are tested in the judgment along with the “materialized” parts ‒ as
converted into deeds, that is.
Now here there will undoubtedly be people who point to whole heaps of works. They were unselfish while they were alive, they have done all that they could to help and support others. They held positions where they could benefit society, and made themselves a reputation as benefactors. Perhaps they have even sacrificed all their worldly goods and spent their whole life helping the poor and the needy, like the “jungle physician” Albert Schweitzer. But as this last once acknowledged in an interview, he could not accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God. And so he was lacking in the “foundation” of which Paul speaks in the above passage (1Cor 3,11). And unless he converted before his death, all his deeds ‒ so many as they were ‒ will be consumed like straw in fire.
Those people, now, who reject the love of God and who have never taken a decision for God and his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, have not had their names written in this book from the foundation of the world:
Everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life.
Rev 13,8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose
name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who
has been slain. Rev 13, 8;
Whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.
Rev 17,8 "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to
come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has
not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see
the beast, that he was and is not and will come. Rev 17, 8;
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life.
Rev 20,15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book
of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Rev 20,15;
(See also Discourse 62: “When will the names of
the righteous be entered in the book of life?”)
But as we can see from further scriptural passages quoted below, there are also people whose names are found in the book of life ‒ so they have decided for God ‒ but under certain circumstances their names may come to be blotted out again.
May they be blotted out of the book of life.
Ps 69,28 May they be blotted out of the book of life And may
they not be recorded with the righteous. Ps 69,28;
And I will not erase his name from the book of life.
Rev 3,5 ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and
I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father
and before His angels. Rev 3, 5;
And if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!
Ex 32,31 Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, "Alas, this
people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32,32 "But
now, if You will, forgive their sin ’ and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You
have written!" 32,33 The LORD said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will
blot him out of My book. 32,34 "But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My
angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their
sin." 32,35 Then the LORD smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron
had made. Ex 32,31-35;
So it is the book of life that is definitive at the Last Judgment, in determining
how the verdict on a person will go. If a person’s name is written in this book, they are saved
and will have eternal life. If they have done good works as well, they will be rewarded. But if they
only have their works and their names are not written in the book of life, it is all burned up and
they are lost for eternity.
(See also Discourse 100: “John Calvin: The true
and the false predestination.”)
But here we recognize that the way pointed to by the Swiss bishops in their pastoral
letter ‒ “the only criterion of this judgment is our attitude to the hungry
and thirsty, to strangers and the homeless, to people who are naked, sick or in prison” ‒ is
a completely false path, which leads straight to damnation. Exactly the opposite is actually the
case: the one and only criterion is faith in the redeeming sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the
cross for our sins. That is what justifies us sinners before God ‒ not any kind of works.
Works of mercy are something that a rightly believing Christian takes for granted. But they are not
the criterion for his or her salvation.
The eternal existence of every human being.
Every individual human being who leaves the amniotic sac
of his or her mother alive in being physically born – who is "born of
water" (amniotic fluid), that is to say (Jn 3:5) – receives a human
spirit (1Cor 2:11) from God (Jn 4:24) with eternal existence (Mt 25:46).
In the first, temporal and earthly part of their existence – in their
life, human beings have the possibility of deciding, in complete freedom,
without any compulsion and with the help of the spirit given them by God,
whether or not they will give this God, the creator of all life, their
complete trust and entire love.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
1Cor 15,42 So also is the resurrection
of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable
body; 15,43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it
is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 15,44 it is sown a natural
body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is
also a spiritual body. 15,45 So also it is written, "The first MAN,
Adam, became a living soul." (Gen 2,7) The last Adam became a
life-giving spirit. 15,46 However, the spiritual is not first,
but the natural; then the spiritual. 15,46 However, the spiritual is not first,
but the natural; then the spiritual. 15,47 The first man is from the earth,
earthy; the second man is from heaven. 15,48 As is the earthy, so also are
those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.
15,49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image
of the heavenly. 1Cor 15,42-49;
With this body the human being
will then stand at the Last Judgment
before the Son of God, who has been given the task by God (Jn 5:22, 26-27)
of judging every human being on the basis of their earthly deeds and their
decision for or against God while still alive (Rom 2:16).
(See also discourse 22: “Is
there such a thing as the immortality of the soul?”)
Now we may well wonder here why the Catholic church has failed to recognize the
background to this saying, when it is so unambiguously proven by Scripture and constitutes such a
decisive factor, and so persists in sending its adherents down a path that leads to disaster. We can
see the answer if we look more closely at the character of this church ‒ where everything is
based on power, influence, hierarchy, pomp, riches and human glory. On externals, in other words
‒ “wood, hay and straw” as Paul writes in the passage quoted earlier (1Cor 3:12). All that
will be consumed in the fire of the Last Judgment. What will remain are the inner, invisible values
of a person ‒ faith, loyalty, steadfastness, love, the fear of God and all the works which
result from these in the life of a human being.
The Biblical Trinity
There is just the one and only God in his three
authorities: God the Father as the legislative authority, comparable
with the legislature in human society; the Holy Spirit as the
authority of execution, similar to the political executive arm; and
the Son of God as the judicial authority, like the court of justice.
God has given human beings the law and the commandments (Ex 24:12),
the Holy Spirit registers the extent to which people observe them,
but only intervenes when human actions might otherwise contravene
God’s plan (2Thess 2:7), and the Son of God will judge every
single human being (Jn 5:22) at the Last
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
This impressive text (Mt 25:40) should exercise us today. It lays us under an obligation. I
am not in a position to lecture anyone, so I say again, it lays us under an obligation. You
might need a bit of interpretation for this passage ‒ that’s something I was able to do
in my youth, and it was all right at the time; I can’t do it any more today, seeing that I
have turned my back on the church... but that is another story. I still have deep respect for
the church, and so I am all the more delighted that this same church has allowed me to stand in
this pulpit today ‒ this touches me deeply. So I do not have any special authority to
insist that you live in accordance with this biblical passage we have just heard, I only have
some measure of concrete experience in questions of how we relate to the “least of our
brothers”, since I am concerned, in a rather extended leisure time activity, with human rights
‒ specifically with the prevention of torture. Torture ‒ this ugly scourge, which no
society in the world seems able to do without.
Of course this is involves terrible scenes of torture in uncivilized exotic countries ‒ but then, too, it is a matter of young prisoners waiting to be deported, sitting in a windowless cell in solitary confinement waiting to be evicted from the country, alone, without contacts, desperate, beside themselves ‒ they may be marked by the experience for life. And this kind of thing happens all over the place, including in Switzerland.
So it’s a matter of deportees? But surely these guys have only got themselves to blame. They didn’t have to come here, without passports and without work! And that text from the Bible that has just been read, of course it’s all very well, you can’t fault it, but all the same when Christ talked about “prisoners” he surely can’t have meant to include pedophiles and terrorists ‒ that would be out of the question! And then there’s the matter of “strangers” too ‒ surely not, for God’s sake, I mean foreigners are all very well ‒ but they should have qualifications, they should be from countries with a culture that compares with our own; not these war-damaged ragtags from Sierra Leone or the Sahel, who don’t have a damn thing to contribute. Everything has become so complex and difficult in this world ‒ the first Christians and their Master in the Promised Land surely had no idea it was going to turn out this way! You can hear for yourselves, it’s the same thing today ‒ just as “righteous” people were in the habit of talking back then, it sounds just the same today, and then they hasten to add “We’ve made a donation already”. I can only object to this that the message of the gospel we have heard is deliberately and intentionally uncompromising. The “least of my brothers” just is unqualified and uncultured ‒ he may be in rags, he may be begging on the streets, he may be taking drugs ‒ he is a refugee, “of no fixed address”.
I don’t want to claim, of course, that dealing with these “least of our brothers” is not a problem ‒ it can create major, practically insuperable problems. But we are now called on as individuals to define our attitude, and then society ‒ the society we belong to and for whose attitudes we are each of us responsible. So how are human rights shaping up in this church, in this country? The yardstick for the attitude of an institution or a society to human rights is just as uncompromising as the message about the “least of my brothers”: the measure is how society deals with the people it hates and rejects the most. (...)
When I get asked about my work in human rights, my answers often produce a starry-eyed kind of effect ‒ wow, what a great thing, so you represent a Nobel prizewinner in Burma! Well, as a matter of fact I do, but then there are still all the others, whole crowds of the “least of my brothers” whose interests need to be protected just as much, and some of them are right here on our doorstep. Then the starry-eyed effect dissipates, and it’s only then that we can sensibly ask the question, WHAT IS TO BE DONE? You, now, have the clear advantage that you are members of a church, which makes it easier for you to answer this question.
• You have something you can refer to ‒ a gospel that you recognize as being authoritative
• And there are many of you, all of you together hoping to find a just, sensible, Christian solution for these life issues.
On the other hand, I have to admit that membership of a church can also be difficult, because it is so demanding ‒ someone can come up with a biblical text at any moment and ask an unambiguous question like “Who is the least of my brothers”, and that can be an effort! But don’t worry, we’re going to manage it. There are hardly any other two concepts that go so well together as human rights and love. And that can be a matter of some interest to you ‒ you, the believing members of one of the most radical and comprehensive messages of love that the world has ever heard.
Sermon by Marco Mona, lawyer, Zurich, 29/30 October 2005 (on the gospel: Matthew 25, 34 - 40)
So here we meet a person who ‒ for whatever reason ‒ has left the
church, and who has been given permission to preach a sermon on the occasion of the Cycle of Sermons
of Pfarrei Sempach [the Sempach Pastorate] in Switzerland. He again, of course, has absolutely no
interest in getting to grips with the actual meaning of this text from Mt 25,34-40, nor probably
would he have the understanding to do so. And he too cleverly moves in his interpretation, or
reinterpretation, away from the true brothers of Jesus to the theme that he really wants to see on
the agenda ‒ to human rights, and his own “extended leisure activity” in this field.
He thinks that the “least of the brothers” of Jesus Christ include young detainees waiting for deportation, as well as “war-damaged rag-tags from Sierra Leone”. And after a brief hesitation, he evidently includes “pedophiles and terrorists” as well. And then he concludes with razor-sharp acuity, “Everything has become so complex and difficult in this world ‒ the first Christians and their Master in the Promised Land surely had no idea it was going to turn out this way!”
So Jesus Christ was just plain wrong, and if he had “had any idea”, he would never have said what he says here. As an uninvolved third party one wonders what the authorities of this pastorate were thinking of, to let this man preach to the members of their congregation, and what coincidence is responsible for the fact that he chose this biblical text specifically. Still more when he takes things to the absolute limit by equating Jesus’ saying about the least of his brothers with the attitude of a society to human rights, and opines: “The measure is how society deals the people it hates and rejects the most.” Seeing that the most hated persons in a central European society are undoubtedly criminals, murderers, pedophiles, terrorists etc., these people too ‒ in the opinion of our lawyer ‒ would be identical with those the Lord refers to as “the least of my brothers”.
As this man mentions at the start of his sermon, he practiced biblical commentary in his youth, and so his remarks cannot be understood as coming from a lack of exegetic skills. Instead this is evidently an attempt at pulling the wool over the eyes of the church community in the confidence that ‒ as is generally the case with an up-front delivery of this kind ‒ nobody is going to ask questions anyway, and some impression at least is going to be left of his claims on behalf of human rights for the “most hated” minorities, like the “pedophiles and terrorists” he refers to.
Finally he observes, with reference to the difficulties faced by church members: “Someone can come up with a biblical text at any moment and ask an unambiguous question like ‘Who is the least of my brothers’, and that can be an effort!” And here we have to agree with him, to the extent that the “someone” ‒ he himself in this case ‒ has clearly not even read this biblical passage in its context, let alone understood it.
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
Where the socially excluded are reviled, there I too am reviled. Where doubt is
cast on retired people’s right to live and their age is disparaged as a burden on the
community, there I too am denied the right to live and made into a burden. If children have to
linger in poverty with the blessing of society, I become that lingering child. If sick people in
financial straits are deprived of therapy, hope and pain relief, so I too suffer pain and have
hope taken away from me.
If immigrant workers are deprived of rest and a homeland, if they see their future as a black hole, my future too becomes full of black holes, I too suffer the loss of rest and have lost my homeland. If people make fun of persons with special needs and exclude them, see them as inadequate human beings, I too would like to be excluded, mocked and decried as inadequate. If homosexuals are discriminated against, if their sexual emancipation becomes the subject of lewd rhymes, I too am robbed of my sexual emancipation, I too am made homosexual. If you remove the homeless in order to clean up the city, I am being cleaned out of city as well, I become a homeless person.
If people are persecuted for their skin color, their religion, their political tendencies, I am being persecuted too ‒ my skin color, my lack of religion and my political tendencies are equally under attack. If people who think differently are excluded, I insist on being excluded myself. If regions are invaded and people murdered and plundered, raped and tortured, I too am murdered, my dignity is plundered, my ethics is raped, my pacifist philosophy is tortured. If opinions are suppressed, my opinions are suppressed; if rights of personality are suppressed, my rights of personality are suppressed; if freedom is suppressed, my freedom is suppressed. If refugees are interned on Australian islands and kept behind bars for years, I am interned, my sense of justice is kept behind bars. I become a Jew wherever Jews are insulted and treated as a social nuisance; I become a black person when the dignity of blacks is disparaged by their being seen as lazy good-for-nothings; I become an indio wherever indios are driven out of their villages, interned or poisoned.
Whatever is done to the least of my fellow human beings, that same thing is being done to me. Whatever the world holds of injustice and unfairness exists in my space as well. Nothing happens on earth by which I am not affected as well. Which always affects me. If today they lock up the ragtags and I say nothing, if tomorrow they stick old people in collective homes and I say nothing, if the day after tomorrow they cram entire social groups into ghettos and I say nothing, who is going to break silence, who will be left who could possibly speak out when they come to get me? Every outrage committed, every outrage willfully taken on board by states, industries, ideologies, parties or organizations or committed in cold blood, is an outrage against me.
To alter the world on a small scale, on our own doorstep ‒ so that it may also be changed on other people’s doorsteps, in hut doorways or igloo entrances or under palm leaves ‒ that is one approach. The much talked of reductionism, repeatedly postulated by good citizens as the practice of direct action, which focuses on “just changing things on one’s own doorstep” ‒ so that an invisible hand, far distant from our homeland in the process of becoming hell, may also make changes ‒ falls short of what is required. Never lose sight of the big picture ‒ we must take it personally, when freedom at the other end of the world is downtrodden with jackboots ‒ we must feel solidarity, if not physically, then at least in spirit! Wherever injustice is committed against the least of my fellow human beings, even if it is a murderer or a criminal whom the representatives of a state founded on the rule of law nonetheless permit to suffer injustice, injustice is being done to me. The society of the future must realize that the beat of a butterfly’s wing can unleash hurricanes; but it must also realize that violence at the other end of the world can equally give rise to hurricanes in our own back yard.
Roberto J. De Lapuente (book author) - Ad Sinistram
The basic mistake of this author lies in the fact that he ‒ as an evident
representative of the left (“Ad Sinistram”) ‒ interprets this biblical passage in a social
and political sense. So he too uses this saying of Jesus just as a pretext, in order to put across
his own message to his hearers. And so what we have here is in no way a biblical argument.
But in view of the fact that we Christians too have to live, think and argue in the world, on closer examination we can quickly recognize the argumentative hiatus behind all these doubtless pertinent remarks. Towards the end of his disquisition the author writes:
“The much talked of reductionism, repeatedly postulated by good
citizens as the practice of direct action, which focuses on ‘just changing things on one’s own
doorstep’ ‒ so that an invisible hand, far distant from our homeland in the process of
becoming hell, may also make changes ‒ falls short of what is required.”
Of course it is not a matter here of an imaginary “invisible hand” which is expected to bring about changes somewhere else. It is rather the consideration that when everyone sweeps his own doorstep, he quickly learns how to sweep for himself and it gradually becomes clean everywhere. And now our author argues:
“(...) when freedom at the other end of the world is downtrodden with
jackboots ‒ we must feel solidarity, if not physically, then at least in spirit!”
Well, if this writer wants to experience physical solidarity with people at the
other end of the world, what on earth is he doing here in Germany? At the other end of the world
‒ for example in Zimbabwe, Africa ‒ freedom is really being trampled underfoot. The
population of this country (amounting to 12.7 million) have been oppressed by the dictator Robert
Mugabe for almost thirty years, and are living with violence, poverty, hunger and misery. The
international community supports the population with aid amounting to billions, which however
rapidly gets transferred by Mugabe and his corrupt politicians to Swiss bank accounts. The
population hardly gets to see a cent of it. Clearly the international community has been failing for
years to improving the living standards of the population. And that is just one example from many
Here, then, the industrial nations have been sweeping not on their own doorstep but on the doorstep of Zimbabwe. And the result is that just a few people have become very much richer. Mugabe regaled the guests at his birthday party with 2000 bottles of champagne and 8000 lobsters, just for a start ‒ while the population have no idea where their food for the next day is going to come from.
We can see that these counsels of an “ad sinistram” author are not all that well thought out. In fact they fail to connect with the reality of our times. A wise man who worked for decades bringing aid to the Third World once said:
“There is no point in giving a starving man on an island a fish every
day. It’s better to teach him to fish, so that he can support himself in future.”
With reference to countries like Zimbabwe, that would mean starting right away with
the children and giving them opportunities of education, training and further training. Only when a
large proportion of the population reaches adulthood with at least a primary school education can
one expect politics and democracy to be successful.
All right, Mr. De Lapuente ‒ if your assertions are not just empty air, and if you really want to experience physical solidarity, just go to Zimbabwe and help set up schools. Or you can get involved with the following project: Give children a chance
"We guarantee that 100% of your donation will be used for the purpose for which it is intended!"
“As you can see from our website, 100% of the money donated goes to directly to Uganda in support of the project. The flights, the organization and all associated expenses are borne by the management board and members of the association in person.” Katharina Marschall (Managing Director)
- by giving financial support to the work of setting up schools and accommodation
for children. Many thanks!!
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
As an atheist, I understand the sentence as meaning that whatever you do to
anyone at all you are also indirectly doing to Jesus, so you should be nice to anyone and
I must admit that I often fail to think, when I do something, what Jesus would say about it. But this passage also means that when you help somebody, when you give someone something and they are pleased, then the Lord is pleased too. He feels it as if we had given him a present, which is what we have done in a certain sense. Every good deed is like a present given to God.
A very good question... which perhaps cannot be simply answered with a monolithic Yes. Certainly we should take this sentence very seriously, but in daily life (and that is not just on Yahoo Clever, but at work, in school, at university or wherever) it isn’t always that easy. I think that all Christians should repeatedly bring this sentence to mind, and they should remind each other about it as well and try as best they can to live according to this principle in the family, then perhaps it would also work on a wider scale.
I would rather be first of all inclined to think about love of our neighbor here ‒ as we know, this was something that Jesus Christ thought very important! If now you work in a large community, in an office for example, there will undoubtedly be people who you don’t like as much as the others! But if you now go against the person you like the least, then at the same time you are going against the ones you like (in an extended sense); finally you should love everyone as you love yourself!
Ad Sinistram http://ad-sinistram.blogspot.com/2009/04/was-ihr-dem-geringsten-meiner-bruder.html
These four postings by different readers of the article by Roberto J. De Lapuente,
quoted above, give us a good cross-section of the range of opinions and knowledge on the subject of
this biblical passage. As was only to be expected, none of these comments considers the context or
the key message with reference to the identity of the “brothers” ‒ instead, just as in the
sermons quoted earlier, the automatic assumption is that these “brothers” mean all the human
beings of this world.
And here again we find an instance of the major deception practiced in the world in relation to what the Bible says. Anyone can say whatever he likes, and because so very few are prepared to switch on their thinking apparatus and to read this passage in the Bible and examine it, views like this and mistaken explanations get a footing, and in the course of time become so much a part of daily life that finally no one any longer even entertains the idea that they might perhaps be wrong.
We find further confirmation of this in the suppositious biblical quotation in that last posting above: “finally you should love everyone as you love yourself!” This, whether consciously or unconsciously, reverses the meaning of the Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan and asserts the exact opposite of what the Lord actually said.
Here, then, is the parable in full:
The good Samaritan
Lk 10,25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying,
"Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 10,26 And He said to him, "What
is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" 10,27 And he answered, "you shall love
the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with
all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 10,28 And He said to him, "You have
answered correctly; do this and you will live."
10,29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 10,30 Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.
10,31 "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 10,32 "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 10,33 "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 10,34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 10,35 "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’
10,36 "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?" 10,37 And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." Lk 10,25-37;
The Law of which the Lord speaks here in Lk 10,26 is the Torah, the Book of Moses (specifically, Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18), to which he also refers in Mt 22,37-40.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Mt 22,35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
22,36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 22,37 And He said to him,
"‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all
your.’ 2,38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 22,39 "The second is like it,
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Lev 19,18). 22,40 "On these two
commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." Mt 22,35-40;
As the Lord here says, on these two commandments ‒ the love of God, and the
love of our neighbor ‒ depend the whole Law (all the commandments of God) and the Prophets. So
it is supremely important to interpret and to understand these statements correctly. And yet the
above parable of the Good Samaritan, with its statement about the identity of my “neighbor”, is
probably the one that has been most misunderstood in the past and continues to be misunderstood, as
a result of the world’s superficial way of looking at things. With this misunderstanding it is not
a matter ‒ just to get this straight from the start ‒ of the injunction to be merciful
and helpful. This is of course right and important, and may be derived clearly from what the Lord
says at the end of the parable in Lk 10,37.
The misunderstanding rather rests on the fact that the answer to the question of the lawyer has been interpreted incorrectly. And some commentators likewise get caught up in the text of the parable and answer, in great detail, the question why the priest and the Levite, unlike the Samaritan, did not help the man who had fallen among robbers, without paying the attention that they should to the actual question to which this parable relates ‒ “Who is my neighbor?”, or “Whom must I love as myself?”
The generally current opinion ‒ which has understandably been picked up and promoted by all kinds of good causes ‒ is that we are here enjoined by God to love all poor and needy persons as we love ourselves, and by acting out of this love to see that they receive the help and support that they need.
But when we look at this passage more closely, we can see that what it says is rather different. Because there, in the final question of the Lord to the lawyer, we find the following:
Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?
So the question is, who is one’s neighbor ‒ more specifically, who was the neighbor for the man who had fallen into the hands of robbers. This, then, should be the answer to the lawyer’s question in Lk 10,29: “Who is my neighbor?”
But at the same time this is a specification of the identity of our “neighbor” in the second commandment ‒ that following the commandment that we should love God ‒ and so designates, for us Christians, those people whom we should love as we love ourselves. And here we can detect in the above question of our Lord ‒ and in the lawyer’s answer ‒ a difference from the generally current interpretation.
The Lord asks who proved to be the neighbor of that man who fell into the hands of robbers. And the lawyer answers, “The one who showed mercy toward him”. So the person in need was not the neighbor of the Samaritan. Rather the reverse is true ‒ the Samaritan, by helping the man fallen among robbers, proved to be his neighbor.
But from this we can draw the conclusion that it is not the case, in this passage, that the “Samaritans” ‒ the helpers ‒ are being urged to love the poor and needy “as themselves”. Of course they should be merciful and help them. This after all is their way of proving, in the last resort, that they do actually love these needy people. But it is those needy people who have been helped who are being enjoined, in accordance with this commandment of God’s, to love their helpers “as themselves”.
And here again we can see a difference from the worldly interpretation of the passage. Whereas the latter endeavors, by reversing the literal sense, to give the impression that in this parable the man who fell among robbers is the neighbor of the Samaritan, and postulates that the poor of the entire world are the “neighbors” of those who are better off, the Lord is here recommending first of all completely personal acts of help, in our immediate locality, and then he is also commanding those who have been helped to love their helpers “as they love themselves”.
So the command to love one’s neighbor, according to the words of the Lord in this parable, means that we should love those people who have helped us, and show our love to them just as they have shown their love to us through the fact that they have helped us. Love of our neighbor, then, is not a category of compassion, but rather one of gratitude.
And as we can easily recognize, this commandment does not just apply to the poor and the needy. It also applies to us, who are not needy ‒ since we too are called to be personally grateful to all those who have helped us in this life ‒ parents, brothers and sisters, relations, acquaintances, friends and even strangers ‒ and should love them as we love ourselves. They ‒ not all the people of this earth ‒ are the ones the Bible says are our neighbors.
And with this biblically correct view of the second commandment about love of one’s neighbor, below in Mt 22:37-39, we can also understand the first commandment the Lord mentions here, that referring to the love of God.
You shall love the Lord your GOD with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Mt 22,37 And He said to him, "‘You shall love the Lord your
GOD with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 22,38 "This is
the great and foremost commandment. 22,39 "The second is like it, ‘You shall love your
neighbor as yourself.’ 22,40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the
Prophets." Mt 22,37-40;
We are not expected to love God on the grounds that he is needy or because he
requires our help in any way, but because he has given us our life and everything we need for it. He
has created everything - the universe and our planet and everything that exists and lives on it.
And he has given it to us.
But just as the brothers of the Lord ‒ rightly believing Christians, that is ‒ have been reinterpreted, as we saw earlier, in being understood as “the aliens and homeless of the entire world”, so that the target group has been falsified and the associated promise:
Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Mt 25,34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come,
you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the
world. Mt 25,34;
cannot have its proper effect, so here as well, when the target group of “my neighbor” is reinterpreted as “all the poor people of the world”, we are embarking on a wrong course. A course on which superficial and credulous people, like Adam and Eve in their time, will place their trust in false insinuators and, while convinced that they are on the right path, will allow themselves to be seduced and so march to their ruin.
Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.
Mt 25,40 "The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say
to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them,
you did it to Me.’ 25,41 "Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart
from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
25,42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to
drink; 25,43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick,
and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 25,44 "Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord,
when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not
take care of You?’ 25,45 "Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the
extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
25,46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Love of our neighbor.
Like the incorrect interpretation of the "least
of my brothers" in Mat 25,40, the complete reversal of the biblical concept of
"love of our neighbor" by churches, preachers and aid organizations is one of the
biggest deceptions, practiced with a view to stimulating compassion in credulous
contemporaries and accumulating funds from donations with minimum effort.
So that is what this parable of the Lord Jesus tells us. And it also says – if some one comes to you personally or you meet them personally and they ask you personally for your help or you see that they are personally in need of help, then, as a correctly believing Christian, you should personally help them. And they should then love you (based on Mt 22,39) personally out of gratitude, in the same way as they love themselves.
Now this is something quite different from those charity campaigns
for refugees whom we never get to know, and who do not have any idea who has helped
them. And in this context most of the money is not spent on the refugees themselves,
but goes to the salaries, logistical operations and other expenses of these "aid
Just as the “least of our brothers” and love of our neighbor has been taken over and stood on its head by the godless, so too the entire Christmas festival has been abused by the
moneymakers of this world for their own purposes and has become just a fun event. But behind this,
of course, there stands the great dragon, the old serpent, known as the devil and as Satan, who
deceives the whole of the earth (Rev 20:9). It has been his aim right from the beginning, where he
could not deny truths, to turn their meaning upside down and so lure human beings away from the
truth onto the path of error.