The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (25:31-46)
Today we are met face to face with a reality that is beautiful for some and quite brutal for others. Today we hear the words of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ about the last judgment. And we are once again in awe and astonishment that the Lord, the king of heaven and earth should reveal such a mystery to us. He welcomes us into His kingdom to understand what is required of us and how we will be tested on the great and last day.
If we pay close attention to this teaching about the last judgment we are surprised both by what is contained and by things that are not mentioned at all. For instance, there is no assumption of being perfect. The Son of man doesn’t separate the people based on whether or not they are perfect. He doesn’t separate them based on whether or not they have ever sinned or done wrong in their lives. He doesn’t separate them based on how long their prayers are or how diligently they fast. He doesn’t separate them based on how piously they cross themselves or make their bows. He doesn’t separate them based on how many icons they can hang on one wall of their house. These are all external in some sense. The Lord judges the heart and more specifically, the way our heart manifests itself in acts of love and mercy and kindness for others.
At the last judgment, the criterion is love. Love in action. But there is a catch! It is not love of those who are easy to love, like our friends and our families and people who are nice to us, or even towards animals who are furry and cute. No. It is love to those who are typically ignored or even despised within our society. Love for those that are often most difficult to love. Love even for those who seem unloveable. To love the poor and those who are hungry. To love the strangers, who have no family and friends. To love the sick who are stuck at home or in hospitals, or even the prisoners who are serving time for their crimes. In a way, we are encouraged to bend down and to go to their level because this is precisely what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us by becoming man. He becomes like us.
So we know all of the criteria for the final exam. There are no surprises. You are judged on how you treat your fellow men who are created in the image and likeness of God. And the more those people are hidden or silent and easy to ignore, the more important it becomes that we love them and that we sacrifice to serve them. That is what it means to be a son or a daughter of God. It’s not just a title that we are given. It is a role that becomes part of our identity.
And we are reminded that there are very real and lasting repercussions to our faithful action or our faithless negligence. The results are permanent either way because once we die, there is no more hope of change and repentance. We are judged by the real and true divine Judge. Instead of seeing this as a threat to our lives and our existence, we should instead see it as a great wake-up call and opportunity to do good to others with the full assurance that we won’t be wasting our lives, we in fact be gaining our lives through our sacrifices for others.
I will end with an extended meditation from St. Nikolai Velimirovich, who writes,
“Brethren, what is our last awaiting? In the night we await the day and in the day we await the night and again the day and again the night. But this awaiting is not our last awaiting. Brethren, what is our last awaiting? In joy we tremble waiting for sorrow and in sorrow we wait with hope for joy and again sorrow, and again joy. But not even these awaitings are our last awaitings. Brethren, our last awaiting is the awaiting of the Judgment of God. When the judgment of God comes, the Dreadful Day “which burns like a furnace” (Malachi 4:1), then we welcome all that we deserve; a day for some, without change into night, and night for others, without change into day; joy for some without change to sorrow and sorrow for others without change to joy. Brethren, that is the last awaiting of the human race, whether he knows it or does not know it, whether he thinks about it or does not think about it. But, you faithful should know this and you should think about this. Let this knowledge be the zenith of all your knowledge and let this thought direct all your other thoughts. In the knowledge and contemplation of this, include that which is even most important, include your diligence “that you may be found of Him in peace without spot and blameless” (or still more correctly translated: pure and blameless).
Be diligent to be pure in mind and in heart, correct in your conscience and in peace with God. Only in that way will the last awaiting not frighten you with unexpectancy, nor will it hurl you into the night without day or into sorrow without joy. As everything else in the life of the Lord Jesus was a surprise for man, thus will be His Second Coming unexpected, in power and in glory. Unexpected was His birth by the All-holy Virgin, unexpected was His poverty, unexpected also was His miracle-working and every word and humiliation and voluntary death, the resurrection, the ascension, the Church and the spreading of His Faith. Unexpected will be His Second Coming, unexpectation more frightful than all other unexpectations. O Lord, O righteous Judge, how will we meet You, unclad in purity and blameless even in peace? Help us, help us that however much as possible we may prepare for the dreadful encounter with You. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.” (The Prologue of Ochrid, July 31st)