The categories of people Jesus expressly identifies as “the least” in Matthew (25:35-36, 42-43) are…
- The hungry
- The thirsty
- The stranger
- The naked
- The sick
- Those in prison
Matthew’s use of “the least” to point to a particular group is status language. Comparing least to greatest; poor to rich. Status was everything in the Roman world. So those who were often viewed with contempt by society are those whom Jesus tells his followers to care for and value.
My interpretation is that we should regard these six categories as illustrative rather than exhaustive. Each meets a specific need of a particular needy person. A kind word or listening ear can help a person in despair. Assistance with a flat tire can redeem the day for a stranded motorist. The possibilities for mercy are boundless, just as human needs are boundless.
This is the last of Jesus’ public teaching in this Gospel, so it would seem that it is the thought that Matthew most wants us to remember. And I believe a most worthy action to make as a personal testimony.