Father Peter’s Message
March 10, 2013
Gospel Passage: St. Matthew 25:31-46
Today’s Gospel speaks to us about an Eternal Future that shall surely come at the end of time. This reading teaches us about the Great and Awesome and Forthcoming Judgment of Christ. His judgment upon each of us shall be precise, final and eternal.
Let me remind you how Christ describes this awesome and fearful day: The Son of Man, at His Second Coming, will appear to us and the entire world displaying His full glory. He shall be accompanied by the holy angels and He will sit on the throne of His glory. The quick and the dead shall respond to His command to appear before Him.
All nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another. He will set the sheep on His right and they shall inherit the kingdom prepared at the foundation of time. The goats will be placed on His left and they shall meet a terrible end. Being cursed by God, they will depart from Him into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, so that you have been forewarned and so that the Lord does not condemn me, your priest, for not having spoken to you of the things that are to come regarding your own Final Judgment, I utter the words of Christ, “those who have ears to hear, let them hear!” – Mark 8:18
Today’s Gospel is no story, nor is it a parable but rather a revelation and a prophecy of the Universal Judgment that will indeed come. Our eternal future and our direction in it is based upon our participation in the praxis of love.
In the previous two weeks, we have been told of God’s mercy extended to the sinner. We have seen that it was the Publican and the Prodigal who was justified by seeking God’s mercy. Nowhere else does Matthew in this Gospel make it so crystal clear that the criterion to be applied at the last judgment will be that of mercy. In the instance of God’s Final Judgment, however, it is not
God’s mercy that is brought into question but yours. Having received God’s mercy and being the beneficiary of it, the basis of judgment is whether you, in return for God’s mercy, have shown mercy. Taking it one step further, have you been made His disciple as a direct result of the Church’s professed mission?
A most interesting and intriguing aspect of this particular Gospel passage is that although it is not an allegory but rather a direct description of the Last Judgment, it nevertheless possess parabolic images with allegorical significance: the shepherd, sheep, goats, and the right and left hand separations.
The shepherd is a symbol of Christ. (“I am the Good Shepherd.” – John 10:11) At the Last Judgment, there is a gathering of all the nations before the Son of Man. All the countless billions upon billions that have been born into the world from the time of Creation to the Great Day of Final Judgment; everyone from Adam the first man to the new born babe are all summoned by the voice of the
archangel and the trumpet of God.
There, each of us shall await his own welcome or condemnation from Christ.
One may ask when is the Day of Judgment? I must know so that I can prepare.
To this question, the Church has no answer; not even Christ knows the time… but only the Father who appoints the time for the coming judgment. – Mark 13:32
Scripture tells us that there shall be cosmic signs of the passing away of this present age. Even now are we beginning to see these things: there will be signs in the sun, and in the moon; in the stars. There will be distress in every nation upon
the earth; the sea and the waves will rage like never before; men will faint and their hearts shall fail from the fear and the expectation of those things which are coming upon the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then, and only then, will we see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. – Luke 21
Therefore my brothers and sisters in Christ, we must live each day as though it is our last; each day we must prepare for the Second Coming and Great Parousia of Christ.
To the sheep, who illustrate the righteous, who follow the shepherd’s command and who became His disciples by following the mission of Church: He welcomes by saying the most beautiful and magnificent words one could ever hear… COME! COME
ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you! COME; for it is His will that His chosen should be with Him to behold His glory and to share in His glory! COME; for your salvation is His joy, the joy for which He endured the Cross! COME; for your discipleship of the Gospel has transfigured you!
The righteous sheep are bewildered at this wondrous welcome. It is a joy almost too great for them to bear – a sweetness so penetrating that the hearts faint in the intensity of its rapture.
What did they do to deserve such a welcome? Looking back on their past lives they can see no deeds so good and holy as the Lord has said.
Yet, there is a marked difference from them and the goats. They are easily distinguished from the careless goat that lives at the edge of the cliff, mere steps away from the precipitous fall.
Explanation: What they did to deserve such a welcome by the Lord was to simply extend mercy to others having themselves already experienced the grace of mercy and forgiveness.
The sheep hear these splendid words, “COME, ye blessed of My Father” because the Gospel of Christ is written in their hearts. Their acts of mercy and kindness were never seen as simply duties to society or humanity but reach far beyond this
humanistic approach to link themselves to Christ, the Head of the Church.
The King now shows to them the meaning of their deeds of love that spring forth out of faith in Christ: COME ye blessed of My Father, 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.
The performance of these simple acts of mercy gained them entry into heaven.
Another astounding aspect of this Gospel reading is that the first person singular stands for both the person receiving mercy and acts of kindness, and Christ.
Christ Himself explains: inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.
Here we see the manifestation of the Church. Each of us is linked together forming One Body – The Church. Through our baptism into Christ we are members of the Church and united one to another. The Orthodox concept is quite clear: individuals are not saved…the Church is saved and because of this we strive to perform, in all purity, the professed mission of the Church which is to extend God’s mercy to others.
In performing acts of mercy as described, we see the face of Christ in every person, which in turn is a fulfilment of the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:39
The goats at the time of Judgment, which are the unrighteous, hear the most frightening words ever uttered: DEPART!!
DEPART FROM ME, YE CURESED!”
What incredible frightening words coming from the mouth of the One who bid all to come unto Him. Oh, how our Lord wished to gather together under the protection of His wings all men but you would not come unto Him. – Luke 13:34. The Saviour came into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. – John 3:17 The Lord Jesus loves the lost soul; saying, “There is more joy in heaven from the return of the one lost sheep than from the 99 that remained. –Matthew 18:12-13 He calls us again and again to return unto Him; He continues to weep over your hardness of heart and unbelief. He is the One who sacrificed Himself and gave His life for you.
As a goat wanders on its own, so do the unrighteous wander through life without God. They resist the Holy Spirit; they close their eyes in wilful blindness. Now…. NOW they must depart from Him whom in life they would not hear. They must DEPART into the eternal fire prepared not for them but rather for the devil and his angels.
The unrighteous love darkness rather than the light of God’s presence. They listen to the tempting voice of Satan and thus must share in his doom. People choose this eternal torment by their coldness of heart.
Explanation: And why do the unrighteous deserve such punishment? This condemnation is pronounced by the Lord because
they rejected God’s mercy and thus neglected to extend mercy towards others. In other words, they did no good and lived only for themselves. They were independent agents who were guided by no higher principles.
How could they in the midst of sorrow and distress and poverty and loneliness; show no love, no pity, no sympathy? Because of this, their souls morphed into a plaything for the devil.
PERSONAL NOTE: One of the most bewildering facets of this Gospel and one that must not slip our attention is that the goats are assigned to eternal punishment not having been accused of any crime. They are not accused of theft, or murder, or slander, or impurity; but are considered worse than these criminals since they are without love.
AND HE WHO LOVES NOT; KNOWS NOT GOD!
To me it is a most solemn thought that this tremendous condemnation was incurred, not by crime, not by actual sin, but by neglect of duty, by selfishness and want of love. “Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did it NOT TO ME!”
Make no mistake, my dear brothers and sisters; you will most certainly appear before Christ at the end times. You will indeed stand at His Judgment Seat to render an account of your deeds…and yet paradoxically, no words will be exchanged; no defence
uttered on your behalf; because everything is being written now as we live and breathe. We learn who Christ is from the Church; and strengthen our life with Him by choosing whether to participate in the Church’s life-giving mission. Think of this: at this very moment, as we move about and have being our demeanor towards one another, the clergy, a neighbor, a parent, a spouse is being developed or hindered. At every moment of our earthly existence, we choose the path that leads toward salvation or condemnation. It is indeed your choice in all matters but it is indeed Christ’s Judgment that is the eternal future.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Great Lent begins next Monday, and so the Church asks you today to consider your relationship with Christ and how it can be developed and strengthen through prayer, fasting, worship, acts of mercy and repentance. Before that most terrible Day of Judgment arrives (which could even be tomorrow) we are asked to rely on God’s mercy so that our goat-like demeanor transforms into something that better heeds the voice of the Shepherd and thus allows the mark of His staff to appear in our hearts. Having experience His mercy through repentance and a humble heart we too can be people offering mercy to those around us. Thus we pray to our Saviour: Lord find me worthy to hear those precious words: COME, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.