The Gospel According to Matthew 25:31-46
When Our Lord Jesus Christ is tested and asked “what is the greatest of the commandments?” He replies that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And then He says “and the second one is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, upon these two hang all the law and the prophets.” We learn from this that these two commandments are truly connected and inseparable.
In today’s gospel the Lord Jesus Christ is like a good teacher who is giving us the answers to the final exam so that we might prepare properly for the exam. In effect, He tells us to pay attention because everything that He is telling us will be on the exam. We learn that there will indeed be an exam. We learn that there are important life and death issues according to which we will each be judged. Yes, it is true. In our culture to speak of judgment seems harsh and yet this is the reality of Scripture. There will be a judgement because God is a judge. No amount of theological innovation can remove God from His place as the judge. God alone judges and declares the righteous. His judgements are true and sound.
As we prepare for the great and holy fast we are reminded that at the end we will not be judged by how well we fast, or how well we do prostrations or even how often we come to the church for prayers. We were reminded a few weeks ago that the pharisee in the parable of the publican and the pharisee did all of those things. In fact he excelled at them! Yet his offering was not accepted by God. Our Lord says to us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the pharisees, we will not be saved. How does one’s righteousness exceed that of the pharisees? He must do more than believe in God and practice empty rituals. His heart must be transformed, he must become humble, he must be broken and refashioned in the likeness of Christ.
Today Our Lord tells us what is expected of the children of God. Out of love and mercy for each of us, He tells us the truth. What is the truth? How will we each be judged? Will we be judged according to our feelings and strong opinions? No. Will we be judged according to our words about God? No. We will be judged according to our actions which are a response to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. St. James speaks about this tension in the Epistle of James ch.2 when he writes,
“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”
St. James tells us that it is not enough to simply believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ. After all, even the demons believe and they tremble. However the demons do not worship God and serve Him. They do not offer up their lives as a living sacrifice to God. Yet we are called to be different. Faith in Christ means living a life in Christ. That is Orthodox Christianity. It is not merely words about Christ, it is life changing conviction that leads to a changed view of the world and ourselves and our neighbors.
You were baptized into Christ and have put on Christ! Having been called to put on Chist, we are called to offer up our lives as a sacrifice out of love for God and on behalf of others. When we live to serve others and to see Christ in others it means that we are truly being transformed into the image and likeness of God. If we are sons and daughters of God, we are called to serve others joyfully as the Lord has descended and taken flesh to serve us. The Lord poured out His life for us, out of love. We are also called to pour out our lives for others, to become love and this is natural because God is love. And the reward is much greater than anything we can imagine. God tells us that in loving and serving others, the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the naked, we are actually doing something even greater, we are serving the Lord Himself. Do we need any more motivation than this?!
St. Nikolai Velimirovich once told this story,
“Similar things happen in almsgiving and in Holy Communion. In Holy Communion we receive the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of bread and wine; in almsgiving we give to the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of the poor and needy. A certain man in Constantinople was unusually merciful. Walking along the streets of the city, he would press his gift into the hands of the poor and hurry onward, so that he would not hear their gratitude or be recognized. When a friend of his asked how he had become so merciful, he replied: “Once in church I heard a priest say that whoever gives to the poor, gives into the hands of Christ Himself. I didn’t believe it, for I thought, ‘How can this be, when Christ is in heaven?’ However, I was on my way home one day and I saw a poor man begging, and the face of Christ shone above his head! Just then a passerby gave the beggar a piece of bread, and I saw the Lord extend His hand, take the bread, and bless the donor. From then on, I have always seen Christ’s face shining above the beggars. Therefore, with great fear I perform as much charity as I can.’
Let us also be convinced that our charity towards others will likewise be accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ and will allow us to hear these beautiful words ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” and Glory be to God forever AMEN.