Note the words highlighted in bold from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:41-45):
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, 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, stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’”
In Matthew’s gospel the “least ones” or “little ones” are references to Jesus’ followers, who, for the purpose of the parable are neither the sheep nor the goats; they represent the ones whose treatment by the world becomes the standard for which the world is judged. The disciples would have understood this. But it also might have disturbed them since the implication is that they should expect to experience misfortunes as hunger, thirst, prison, etc. Otherwise, they would be no basis for the judging of those who either mistreated them or were hospitable toward them while suffering under those conditions.
The prophetic nature of the parable is reflected in St. Paul’s list of his own misfortunes in his letter to the Church of Corinth:
“We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13).