judgementIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today is the third and final Sunday of preparation for Great and Holy Lent. And we read what is perhaps the most troubling of Christ’s parables—when He speaks about the Last Judgment. The end of all things, when God’s Kingdom alone will reign in the cosmos. Satan will be bound, and for us human beings, there will be the final Judgment. The sheep will be divided from the goats, and the goats “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

I say this is a troubling parable because both the righteous and the unrighteous question the Judge. The righteous don’t understand why they deserve life, and the unrighteous don’t understand why they deserve punishment. The righteous don’t see their righteousness, and the condemned don’t see their unrighteousness. This fact itself makes the parable disconcerting. We like to feel that we have a grip on what’s going on, that we understand our lives. And this morning we hear that we don’t always understand, even our own actions.

The placement of the this morning’s parable lends to it an obvious meaning within the pre-Lenten cycle—we’re called to repent with humility like the Publican, to return to God with humility and repentance like the Prodigal, because the Last Judgment is nearing, when we’ll be placed in God’s Kingdom, or we’ll be left out of that Kingdom, for all eternity. And the Church calls us to prepare ourselves for this last day. In fact, when Christ calls people to repentance and to return to God and to follow the commandments, He very frequently will end with a phrase like, “for great is your reward in Heaven.” Everything in this life is to be our preparation for the moment of the Last Judgment—if anything separates us from Christ we lay it aside.

And at the most basic level, we lay it aside because separation from Christ leads to eternal damnation. We hope to grow beyond merely a fear of punishment, we hope to one day follow Christ purely out of love, but the Fathers all teach that the first movement toward Christ is most often from a fear of death, a fear of punishment, and a fear of the unknown. So in order for us to grow, in order for us to operate less on the level of fear, and more on the level of understanding, this morning we’ll consider the question—What does it take to find oneself one the right hand of Christ, with the sheep, at the last and dread judgment?

Christ says this morning—“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.“ (Matthew 25: 35-36) But what do these actions mean? What is it that Christ is telling us is necessary for us to inherit the kingdom of heaven? In the parable, Christ describes the actions of people who are acting like Him. To do those things mentioned by Christ in the Gospel means to do the things of God. To conform to the image Christ. As St. Paul says, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. We’re not Pelagians—Christ is not saying, “ do these works and you’ll be saved.” He’s describing the life of a person who has entirely submitted themselves to doing the will of God. It’s not a day-by-day calculated, “I must feed a hungry person, and I must give to a poor person…” or whatever. The actions of the people placed at the right hand of God flow from their relationship with God. They aren’t forced—they come naturally to people who have been re-born, healed, in Christ.

Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS reminds us, however, that we can have a relationship with God and not be saved (Hesychia and Theology, pp. 124-125). It’s not simply ‘a relationship with Christ’ that offers man salvation. Everyone in the world has a relationship with God—even Satan has a relationship with God. But in a saving relationship we must be healed, we must be transformed. Restored to a natural state of communion with God, from our current un-natural state of separation from God because of sin. It’s a relationship based on love, where we strive every day to empty ourselves, to offer ourselves as vessels to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And in the selfless relationship with Christ—when the relationship is on His terms (and not ours), then it’s a relationship that offers us healing and salvation.And we’ll be transformed. And slowly, we’ll begin to direct our actions in the way that Christ would have us to go.

Elder Porphyrios has some very good words for us on the relationship with Christ that offers man salvation.
He writes (in Wounded by Love)—“Look towards Christ and that will save you. What makes a person saintly is love – the adoration of Christ which cannot be expressed… no [one can] become holy without ascetic exercises…no one can ascend to spirituality without exercising himself. Ascetic exercises are such things as prostrations, vigils and so on, but done without force. All are done with joy. What is important is not the prostrations we will make or the prayers, but the act of self-giving, the passionate love for Christ…there are many people who do these things, [but] not for God…but spiritual people do them in order to reap spiritual benefit; they do them for God.”

So as we prepare to enter the season of the Great Fast, let the thoughts from this morning’s parable go with you this week. To inherit Kingdom we must be one with Christ. Is my relationship with Christ a saving relationship? Is it a relationship governed by His terms? Or do I cultivate it only when I want to? Is my relationship with Christ transforming me, making me more and more to be in the image and likeness of my Creator? And where we see failings, these are places to begin to work on this Great Lent. May God grant us the grace to see ourselves as He sees us, and to draw us to Himself by His great love for us.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson