The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (25:31-46)
One of the most deceptive aspects of our culture and society is the belief that when we die, we will become nothing. We just cease to exist. However, we as Christians understand the words of Jesus Christ as the truth and the reality of life. We test everything that we hear and see and understand against the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord reshapes and reforms our reality by His teachings, by His words. And through this reshaping of our reality, He then reshapes our lives and reshapes each of us. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us when we die, we will not simply cease to exist. We will not simply vanish.
Even among many of the Protestant and evangelical denominations we see the belief that when we die, all will be well if we have believed in Jesus Christ, if we were “saved.” That we will avoid judgment and that God will not even judge us. All of these opposing philosophies seek to undermine the truth of the gospels. The truth as spoken by the Lord Jesus is that God is a judge, that there is indeed a judgement and that each of us will be judged and separated. Some will be numbered among the righteous and other will be numbered among the unrighteous.
What are the criteria for this judgment? How will God judge each of us? He will judge us based on our actions! Not only based on what we say or what we believe, but on our actions themselves. As we begin seriously contemplating the meaning of life without meat, life with voluntary sacrifices, we are reminded that the Christian life is not really ultimately about how we fast, how many prostrations we do, how many prayers we say, or the length of our prayers. The criteria for a whole and complete Christian life is how well do we love. How active is our life of love?
The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that at the judgment, each and every one of us will stand and have to give an account for our actions. What actions? Specifically these: Did we feed the hungry? Did we give drink to the thirsty? Did we welcome strangers? Did we clothe those who lacked clothing? Did we visit those who were sick? Did we come to those who were in prison?
This is not a laughing matter. Our spiritual life and death are based in part, on our actions and those actions are determined by whether we know and are growing towards God. If we know God, we will know a life of love towards others. It’s not enough that we do the things mentioned in the gospels every once in a while. It assumes that we busy ourselves with acts of love and have no time for the works of darkness. We have to avoid living sinfully, judging others, speaking ill of others, acting in uncharitable and unloving ways towards those around us, even those who disagree with us. We are not called to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ, but to humbly try to reconcile and love them. We have to love everyone, the poor, the sick and naked, the prisoners, the strangers and we even have to go further. We have to love those whom we regard as our enemies because God will judge us and we cannot avoid this judgment. St. Silouan once wrote, “Whoever will not love his enemies cannot know the Lord and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, that we will begin reading on the first day of Great Lent we will hear these words,
“The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is near at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? [Matthew 24:33; Psalm 38:7] Come to your senses, my soul!”
This is the second to last Sunday before the great lenten struggle begins. It’s time to refocus our lives. Lent is a time for us to come to our senses, to come to our Lord and to come back to life. Don’t think that you and I can just be comfortable with a little extra fasting and prayer and call it a day. NO! God requires His children to show acts of mercy and kindness to everyone. If His children do not show love, they will be unrecognizable to Him and He will also be unrecognizable to them.
St. Isaac the Syrian writes about the judgment and hell when he says,
“I also maintain that those who are punished in (Hell) are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in (Hell) are deprived of the love of God… The power of love works in two ways. It torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend. But it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties.”
We all want to have joyful lives. We want to have lives that are pleasing to Christ and offer us meaning and fulfillment. This is only possible if the One who created us, also accepts us to dwell with Him in peace and joy for all eternity. Our Lord Jesus tells us that this is possible only through acts of love and mercy. We can only stand at the Lord’s right hand if we are willing to live sacrificial lives and go out of our way to show acts of mercy to others. This is what is expected of us because this is what Our Lord has done for each of us.
He has fed us with both food as well as the heavenly bread. He has clothed us not only with clothing but with the garments of righteousness. He has visited us in our sicknesses and given us both physical and spiritual healing. He has not only visited us while we were imprisoned in our sins, but He has completely freed us from the power of sin and death. Let us be His children and reflect this mercy and love in all of our dealings with others. May the Lord judge us worthy to be numbered among His faithful sheep. Glory be to God Forever, AMEN.