The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 25:31-46
In each of the weeks leading up to Great and Holy Lent we are given a concise lesson, a building block that we should take and focus on in order to prepare ourselves for a fruitful Lenten struggle. Each one of these lessons is a seed because it is a teaching of Christ who is the Word. His word comes to us and dwells within us and depending on what kind of soil is present in our hearts, this word can sometimes take hold and build strong roots that lead to fruit. This fruit means that the tree is healthy and that it also gives life to others through the nourishment that it produces.
Today we encounter a dreadful and wonderful moment in the gospel teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is His teaching on “The Last Judgment”. The first thing that we must say is that this judgment is inevitable for each and every one of us. God is a judge. People, including Orthodox Christians, have tried to minimize this judgment or pretend that it will never happen but as the people of God we are without excuse because the Son of God found it important enough to describe it in detail for us. To deny the judgement is to deny the words of our master.
What we learn here in this passage is something very important to our Lenten struggle: What we do, really, truly matters. We will not simply be judged by what we think or what we say, but by what we actually do. Lent is about doing something different with our energy. It is about using our bodies in the proper way. Not for our own pleasure, not for chasing after our own desires, but in order to glorify God fully. The Lord teaches us this when He says that one must love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength and that he should love his neighbor as himself. “And upon these two, hang all the law and the prophets.” So we come to Lent in order to direct our bodies and hearts and minds to prayer and communion with God, and also to service of others.
The disciplines of Lent are not meant to be a yoke or a burden, they are actually meant to be the key to unloosing the shackles of bad habits and sinful passions that usually enslave us. The disciplines of Lent are not meant to be comfortable, they are meant to remind us that we have been living a life of comfort. And this life of comfort, if left unchecked, will result in our condemnation before the judge.
Why is this the case? Am I trying to make you feel bad or depress you? Far from it. The evangelical megachurches have thousands of people in them every Sunday and the message is uplifting and the music is emotional, yet the Lord has promised us that the way is narrow and there are few who will enter it. I want you to be awake to the reality of following Jesus Christ as disciples on the narrow way.
What we learn in today’s gospel is that the Lord our God expects us to find people who lack comfort and bare necessities and He expects us to go out of our way to provide them with whatever they are lacking. Sometimes people lack food or water, sometimes they lack clothing. Sometimes they lack friendship or fellowship or even a kind word. The truth is that it is really difficult for us to think of the discomfort of others when we are usually quite comfortable.
Lent is a time that is meant to shake us to the core. We are meant to have a life changing encounter with God. This encounter should make us act differently than we did before. One of the fruits of this life changing encounter is that we will learn to pray with humility, and we will learn to repent. These are the inward changes, but what about the outward changes? Does God expect only an inward, hidden faith? Certainly not! The outward actions are so important that the Lord Jesus mentions them here. Our judgement is not based on who we are or what we say we believe; it is based on what we really believe. And what we really believe, we also live.
In short, the God who is love waits to see whether or not our lives will demonstrate our love for Him. We can only love others because He first loved us. We can only serve others because He first served us. The Lord is so serious about this call to love and serve that He identifies Himself with all of the people who are in need. He is one of them. You don’t go out and find ways to serve the poor and the sick. You don’t think twice about it. You go out and serve Jesus.
Life is short. God is the judge. What we do matters. Are we going to be counted as headstrong, willful goats who go where we please or as obedient sheep who hear the voice of Our good shepherd?
May we all find ourselves on the right side at that dreadful day of judgment with the shepherd of our souls! And glory be to God forever, AMEN.