Recent comments and executive actions by the Trump administration have inspired people from all faiths to speak out against the xenophobic rhetoric coming from the White House.
Many faith leaders have responded to the administration by using Matthew 25 to combat the administration's rethoric and reinforce how Christians should treat marginalized communities.
But interpretation of who Jesus is referring to as “the least of these” in Matthew 25 gained attention last week when some politically conservative Christians claimed that Jesus was speaking solely about his disciples or other Christians — and not all marginalized and oppressed communities.
Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host, writer, contributor to Fox News, and former editor of RedState.com, known for his critiques of progressive politicians, brought this interpretation into the spotlight with a tweet claiming that Matthew 25 was only talking about caring for other Christians — not people in poverty.
In Matt 25, when Jesus talks about caring for “the least of these,” he isn’t talking about the poor in general, but fellow Christians.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 17, 2017
Responses from numerous faith leaders and scholars made it known they disagreed with Erickson's view of this scripture.
There are few things the Bible is unambiguously clear about, but from Hebrew Scripture to Matt. 25, care for the poor&needy is one of them.— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) March 17, 2017
To not help the poor is to not help Christ. To ignore the poor is to ignore Christ. To demonize the poor is to demonize Christ. (Matthew 25)— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) March 17, 2017
Based on her study of church history, Dr. Diana Butler Bass, a religion author, scholar, and writer, rejected the idea that the least of these were only Christians or Jesus’ disciples, instead explaining that they were specifically people outside of the church.
With a series of tweets, Dr. Butler Bass explains historically who the least of these were and still are today.
In church history, early western theology tended to read Matt 25:40 exclusively -- referring to Xians. 1/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
But the eastern tradition read Matt 25:40 broadly, meaning all outcasts, all the poor, especially lepers. 2/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
This makes some sense historically. The west tended toward issues of purity, often because of persecution. 3/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
West wanted to protect church frm outside threats, so they wanted to take care of their own. (This shows up in the later pastorals as well.)— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
But Eastern theologians worried that being self-absorbed fueled materialism. So they turned attention toward a larger arena of care. 6/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
In medieval society, there were very few people who weren't Christians. Thus, Matt 25:40 was seen to be about the Xian poor. 7/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
Same held true about Reformation. But the reformers are influenced by Renaissance humanism, so they begin to broaden ideas of charity. 8/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
By the time we get to Wesley, those early evangelicals understand that the "least" are people outside the reach of the church. 9/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
As do Catholic missionaries in the early modern period. They know that the "poor" includes all sorts of people outside of faith. 10/— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) March 18, 2017
Read the entire twitter conversation here.