Sunday of the Last Judgment
We are continuing in our journey toward the start of the Great Fast… Last week we heard the parable of the Prodigal Son and we spoke about it as an illustration of repentance and also reflected on the reaction of the older, dutiful son – who had done everything right by his father. One of the most remarkable things about that parable was that it was not so much about the deeds and misdeeds of the sons, as it was about the character of the father and the nature of his love, which was offered equally and unerringly to his beloved children.
Today, on this second Sunday before Great Lent, the Holy Church brings before us the image of the final judgment seat of Christ, when all people will be brought before Him and the sheep (those who loved Christ) will be separated from the goats (those who did not love Him).
To the sheep, He will say ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’. This kingdom is offered to the sheep because of their compassion and service to those in need. Jesus says, ‘…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
When asked how this could be so, Christ answers them by saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to me’.
Seated on His throne of judgment, Christ will then turn to the goats on His left and say, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’. They will be condemned because they did not feed Him when He was hungry, give Him drink when He was thirsty, take Him in when He was a stranger, clothe Him when He was naked, visit Him when He was sick or in prison.
This is the scene at the dread judgment day, a day that awaits each and every one of us. It is a sobering thing to realize that each and every one of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an accounting of our life.
And what is it that the Lord Jesus Christ will ask of us? I think, as this morning’s Gospel makes clear, the essential question that will be put before us by our Lord Jesus Christ is this: ‘Have you loved me?’
When Christ was hungry, did we give Him food? When He was thirsty, did we give Him drink? When He came to us as a stranger, did we take Him in? Did we show love for Christ? And, as the Gospel teaches us: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to me’.
Have we loved one another?
This is the essential question, this is the criterion upon which we will be judged. Have we loved Christ? Have we loved one another?
The dread judgment of Christ will be a day of reckoning for us. But what is the reckoning? The Holy Scriptures tell us that “our God is a consuming fire”. We are destined and welcomed by God to come into the presence of the consuming fire of His love and, depending on the degree to which we have become enflamed with God’s love while here in our earthly existence, depending on whether we have loved Him in all of the various circumstances in which He has come before us in this life… our entry into the fire of God will either be heaven or hell.
St Anthony the Great tells us the following:
'God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness, we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God's goodness. Thus, to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.'
In order to abide in the presence of Love we must begin to instill within ourselves that Love. One of the ways we do this is by recognizing the presence of God in our day to day life and in those all around us. We do not need to look for any extraordinary circumstance to exercise our love for Christ. We have opportunity to love God in our very own home, in our workplace, and in all the circumstances of our life. Whatsoever we do to the least of these, my brethren, we do to Christ. Let us reflect on this as we examine our behavior toward our spouse, toward our parents, our children, everyone God places before us… All these circumstances of life provide the opportunity to draw us closer to God and His love or to turn away from that love.
May we strive to live our lives in such a way that when we stand before our Lord and He asks us, ‘Have you loved Me?’… we may reply with all sincerity and purity of heart, ‘Yea, O Lord, you know that I love you!’ And may we then be blessed to hear those most precious and longed-for words: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant… Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.’ Amen.