The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 25:31-46
In the weeks leading up to Great and Holy Lent we are given building blocks for the Christian life, building blocks for starting over at the beginning of Lent. The Church is our mother and she loves us. She is gently and slowly teaching us through the readings and giving us a road map to follow the Lord Jesus Christ on the way to the cross and the empty tomb. In the first of these weeks leading up to Lent we heard the parable of the pharisee and the publican. The lesson was that humility is a key ingredient to our Christian struggle. Last week we heard the parable of the prodigal son. The lesson was that heartfelt repentance is met with great joy by God our Father. This week we hear the story of the last judgment. This judgment will take place at the end of the age, when the Lord returns.
We are told that “when the Son of Man comes in His glory” He will have His angels with Him and will be seated upon His throne. This Son of Man is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Next, we are told that all the nations will be gathered in front of Him while He begins to separate nations and peoples. What are the criteria for separating them all? Is it that one group claims that Jesus is Lord and savior? Is it that one group takes communion on a weekly basis? Is it that one group is particularly good at bringing in thousands to worship on Sunday morning? Perhaps it is that God just randomly chooses some to be saved. Are these the things that the Lord reveals to us in this reading? The simple answer is no.
Though some other differences may exist, we are not told of any major difference between the two groups but one. The major difference between these two groups is the way that they respond to the needs of others. One group fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited the sick and the imprisoned. The other group, while calling Jesus “Lord”, did not do anything to help take care of the needs of others.
What makes these two groups so different? LOVE. One of these groups is full of love. We live in a society where the word “love” is used often, even overused. Love is seen here in this parable as the act of looking past my own needs and wants and fears and comfort in order to provide for others who need, want, fear and have no comfort. Any given day I have an opportunity to love those who are being ignored by society. Any given day I am given the privilege of being the healing presence of Christ to those who are broken. God has given us wonderful gifts, how are we using them to be a blessing not simply to others, but to those who really truly need a blessing?
The other aspect of love is that we begin to see Jesus Christ in everyone that we meet. We are told in the book of Genesis that God created man in His image and likeness. Our life then becomes a test to see whether or not we truly believe that everyone we meet is really an image of God. What an amazing gift! We have the blessing of knowing that every single time we serve and love the needy, we are actually serving Christ Himself. That surprises us but think about it, Jesus Christ was homeless for much of His ministry. He had days where He was hungry. He had moments where He was thirsty. He was stripped of clothing and He even became a prisoner. The Lord did all of this as a truly human being. What an example of love! The Lord is not just telling us what we should do for others. He is reminding us of what was done to Him.
Here are some practical ways to love and serve others: Instead of that pampered chef party, take a few hours to visit a soup kitchen. Instead of girls night out, perhaps a visit to the local women’s prison or retirement home. Instead of long trips around the world, perhaps a family mission trip to one of the countries where Orthodox missionaries are trying to make a difference. This will have more of an impact on the life of your family than almost any other activity. Instead of thinking about where to store your money in savings or how to expand your business perhaps you can think about how to use your business skills and resources to start a non-profit business or support one that helps to employ others and invests in the community. This is certainly something we could be thinking about doing as a church.
We invest our time, our money, our efforts and our love and sometimes the only reward is knowing that we’ve done the thing that is pleasing to Him. We all would like to imagine that heaven is waiting for us one day. That is not the teaching of the Lord. Love of our neighbor is where the rubber meets the road. Love opens the door to the kingdom. The Lord teaches that “they will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” This love is a sign that we are truly sheep who hear the voice of Christ our shepherd.
May we refocus our lives as we approach the great and holy forty days. May the Lord place us at His right hand and number us among His faithful. AMEN.