So begins today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 25:31-46).
It is not pleasant to hear about judgement for a person with an active conscience. Such a person is keenly aware of his or her failings and is concerned about the possibility of ending up on the left hand together with the goats. Yet it is helpful to hear about this for it provides an impetus to fresh endeavours to live a life of righteousness.
It is even less pleasant to hear about judgement for a person who is trying to block out the voice of conscience. This is a painful reminder about the possibility that one will not be able to escape the consequences of one’s action indefinitely, but that there shall one day come an accounting for everything. No matter how hard such a person struggles to shake off or laugh off the idea of Judgement Day, still he or she cannot know peace about it. For there is something written in our hearts that tells us that we must beware, that we are accountable and responsible for the deeds we do and the words we say. It is impossible to completely wipe this out.
It is important for us as we draw so close to Lent, the time of drawing near to the Father, Who awaits us, to also hear about the Day of Judgement, as well as about the grounds for that judgement which is coming. We shall note that the basis for the judgement that is coming is the way in which we act towards others who are in need. The goats were those who lived heedlessly, caring little that the Lord Himself was standing before them, beseeching them to have mercy upon Him.
What? How strange to hear that God is asking us to be merciful towards Him. Was it really the Lord dying of hunger in Ukraine in the 1930’s? Is it Him perishing in the famines and epidemics in Africa and other trouble spots on our planet? Is He the traveller who is looking for shelter? Is that Him walking about in rags or lying sick in the hospital bed or alone in His apartment? Is that really Him waiting for visitors to His prison cell? It is fearful to think about this! Yet as we hear this Parable we find that it is indeed He in all these cases Who awaits our kindness towards Him. For He says that everything that was done or not done, was done or not done to Him. Those who heard seemed to be quite amazed by this – with good reason.
Amazing though it may be, the Lord stands before each one of us in the person of those in need around us and asks us to add to our endeavours in fasting and praying during Lent works of mercy and kindness to others. He Himself has given us the example of how we ought to relate to Him in the Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrated in the accompanying Icon. We shall note that it is He, Who is that merciful Samaritan, Who comes to bind up our wounds, inflicted by sin, and to take us to the place of healing. Now we, in turn, must come to see Him in the person of the needy man neglected by the priest and the Levite, Who awaits our care. Shall we so see Him? Upon this shall be based the judgement that we shall be facing one day. Let us not be afraid. Rather, let us love Him enough to be merciful, for the merciful shall obtain mercy. Amen.
St. Paul’s words to his student in the Faith, St. Timothy, in today’s Epistle (2 Timothy 3:10-15) ought to make us sit up and take notice in this matter. He says that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived”. He says, in other words, that a truly godly life is inevitable tested by persecution and by various kinds of suffering. There is benefit in this! It can help keep us from being deceived about how good we are. It can keep us aware of the fact that we are dependent upon God for everything, and that we cannot boast about our own strength and self-sufficiency, as did the Pharisee. It keeps us asking God for mercy and help as did the tax-collector.
Therefore, let us resolve today to be grateful for the hard times and difficulties we go through. Let us look for what is useful in them. Let us see the opportunities for growth in faith and maturity in them. Above all, let us resolve to be completely honest before God and ourselves as to our true state. Let us unashamedly confess before Him who we are, the sins we are prone to fall into, the weaknesses that beset us. Let us ask Him for help and mercy.
If there is anything for which we can be praised and honoured by Him, let us wait patiently for Him to do that Himself in due time. Let’s not try to do the justifying and praising ourselves. God Himself will exalt us when the time is right for it. It will be at a time when this exaltation will be beneficial to us and to others. It will come when we shall be ready for it, without the danger of being deceived about our worth, which would make that exaltation worthless and even harmful. For now, let us simply be happy that God helps us go along the path of life beside Him as His children. To be a child of God is an honour far greater than being a king. May God preserve us from deception. Amen.