Matthew 25:35 states, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (ESV)
But what does this passage mean? How should we interpret this verse from Jesus?
Matthew 25:35 Shows That It was Jesus all Along
In Matthew 25:35 Jesus says that when his people helped those in need, they were actually helping Him. They were helping Jesus.
When Jesus’ followers were feeding the hungry, they were helping him. When they were giving water to the thirsty, they were helping him, and when they were welcoming foreigners, they were helping him.
Helping The Hungry, Thirsty, and Strangers as a Requirement
Jesus praises those who help people in need. He also warned those who do not help those in need. Jesus clearly contrasts this passage, Matthew 25:35, with another passage later,
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” (Matthew 25:41-43)
Here he tells people essentially, “because you have not helped those in need, you have not helped me. Because of this, you will not be saved.” That is a very serious warning coming from Jesus. It is easy to downplay this warning but we must imagine that Jesus didn’t intend to downplay it. That is why it is so serious.
But who are these people? Who are the hungry, the thirsty, and the strangers? Well the first two seem pretty obvious. People who are literally hungry and thirsty… though this may also apply to people who are spiritually or emotionally hungry and thirsty.
But the, “stranger” is a little harder to figure out. Who is are these “strangers” that Jesus talks about?
Who is the “Stranger” in Matthew 25:35?
One interesting thing to note is that note is that the english translation seems to miss something important.
The word translated, “stranger” here is the Greek word xenos. And in ancient greek this isn’t the same as our contemporary concept of stranger.
As the great biblical scholar Scot McKnight says, “the Greek word for foreigner is xenos.” (source: 1 Peter, The NIV Application Commentary by Zondervan Academic)
Does that word sound familiar? That might be because it is were we get our contemporary word, “xenophobia”, meaning, the fear of foreigners.
This word is also contrasted with citizens, suggesting the term means people who are not citizens,
“So then you are no longer strangers (xenos) and aliens, but you are fellow citizens…” (2 Peter 2:19a, ESV).
While there may be additional meanings, it seems that the meaning of xenos includes the immigrants and foreigners among us. If so, Jesus is calling us to welcome foreigners and warns us if we don’t.
We’ve written more on this in our post, Jesus on immigrants. See our DACA quotes for more reasons to seek reconciliation for undocumented immigrants and illegal immigration statistics for data to help inform your decision.
Applying Matthew 25:35
Matthew 25:35 encourages us while the parallel verse in Matthew 25:41-43 warns us. It tells us that Jesus is living in human beings and so it is crucial that we love human beings… especially those in need. Especially those that much of the world considers unlovable. In doing so, we feed Jesus, we give Jesus water, and we welcome Him in.
May God help you and I to do that, that is my prayer. In Jesus’ name.