Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“’Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!’” (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15).
We have been hearing a lot about repentance, about turning around and doing an about face, about returning to Paradise from which we have come and from which we have been barred by our sin. We repent precisely because the Kingdom of Heaven “’is at hand.’” And, if we linger and lollygag, like the five foolish virgins found at the head of this chapter in St. Matthew, we will be denied entrance when the Bridegroom returns. Indeed, He will even dare to say to us, “’Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (Mt. 25:1-13). I don’t know about you, but for me those would be the most frightening words to hear, and it would only be my fault, my most grievous fault, for not heeding the divine command to watch and pray and to be about our Father’s business. “’And cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Mt. 25:14-30).
This Judgment of God at the end is for keeps. It is not a temporary slap on the wrist with a stern warning. It is eternal. It is final. Hell or Gehenna – everlasting fire – was “’prepared for the devil and his angels’” and not for us. Heaven was prepared for those who heed the Master; the Kingdom of God was prepared from the foundation of the world for the righteous. Paradise is what mankind has been created for – communion with God for all eternity. Those who are ordered by the Judge to depart from the Presence of God have no one to blame but themselves. By refusing to heed God they have opted to join forces with the devil. There is no in-between states in eternity. St. John the Theologian, that great purveyor and Evangelist of God’s overwhelming love for His creation minces no words in his Epistles. It is true absolutely that “the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” However, “he who sins,” says St. John, “is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” The Apostle and Theologian is far from being woke and politically correct. He is not afraid to speak the Truth in love (Ep. 4:15), even if it means offending some and stepping on the toes of others. Time is of the essence! Souls are at stake! Salvation hangs in the balance! “’Repent!’” is the cry of Prophets and Apostles. “Return to the Lord thy God. Perhaps He will relent and spare you?” (Ho. 14:1; Jh. 3:9). If we throw in our lot with sin and practice not righteousness, we are children of the devil, St. John tells us without batting an eye (1 Jn. 3:8, 10). There is no time to play games or split hairs when the King is coming in all His glory with His holy angels before Whom we all must stand and have our lives revealed. We are either all in or all out. We are either committed to Christ, our King and our God, or we are not. We cannot be part sheep and part goat: we are either the sheep of His pasture (Ps. 94 :7; 99 :3) or the goats of His disinheritance. The judgment of God begins with us, at the House of God, St. Peter tells us. “[A]nd if it starts with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the Gospel of God?,” St. Peter asks. “’If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear?’” (Pr. 11:31; 1 Pe. 4:17-18).
Much to the chagrin of some who want to emphasize faith as our salvation, talk of the righteous Judgment of God always involves our works – what we have done and what we have left undone (Rm. 2:1-11; 1 Cr. 3:11-15; 2 Cr. 5:10). Yesterday’s Gospel is a case in point. What did our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ say? “’Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and shall come forth – they that have done good, unto the resurrection of Life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation’” (Jn. 5:29). The Judgment of God is based on what we have done or failed to do because faith is a verb. It does something or looks like something. Our works make faith palpable and tangible as does unfaith or unbelief (Jm. 2:14-26). This is why our Lord elsewhere can say, “’You will know them by their fruits’” (Mt. 7:15-23). Those who believe in God the Father almighty, and in His only Son our Lord, and in the Holy Spirit have hope and they live in love. This is very Johannine. Why? Because God is love and those who are the children of God love as God loves, says St. John (1 Jn. 4:7-5:2). It’s quite that simple. “’Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven’” (Mt. 5:16). And, if we still wonder about the place of works in our lives of faith, in the same chapter that the Apostle says we are saved by grace through faith as God’s gift to us, he turns right around and declares, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ep. 2:4-10). For “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, . . . gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us . . . and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Ts. 2:13-14). “This is a faithful saying,” says St. Paul, “that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable . . . .” (Ts. 3:8).
There is no question that this parable of the Last Judgment with its sheep and its goats has been quite influential in the development of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy espoused by the Church in her Holy Tradition. In fact, it has lent itself to the rise of what has been framed as social justice in recent years, coupled with what has been called “liberation theology.” This is very much a political take on the Gospel which we see now bearing fruit in the nonsense of today’s wokism and political correctness. Some of this could lead us to misperceive that nothing else that Jesus said really matters when it comes right down to it. What I would offer to you is that today’s parable is an icon capturing in one coherent image all that our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ has said and taught in the Gospel, especially in His Sermon on the Mount, and that, ultimately, it is all about Jesus Christ, the coming King of Glory. The least become the test of our living faith in Jesus Christ. “’He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much,’” Jesus says, “’and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much’” (Lk. 16:10). Or, perhaps framed a tad differently, those who are faithful toward the least of these will also be faithful toward those who are greater; those who are unjust toward the least will also be unjust toward the greater.
Though Jesus Christ is found in all persons (because we all are created in the image of God), it is nonetheless the very least among us with whom He most identifies. But, why is that? It is because these forgotten ones, these despised ones, these neglected ones all live on the fringes of society and are oftentimes peripheral to what society deems more important. They are, quite honestly, seen by society as of no consequence and frequently expendable. Of such as these, however, is the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14; Lk. 18:16). Though the least, yet because of Jesus Christ and through Him and by Him, they are the most important for our salvation. In the eyes of God, they become most valuable for us and for our salvation and are icons of all mankind who is sick with the terminal disease of sin, imprisoned by the devil, destitute of Paradise, deprived of the Bread of Life, parched from the drought of grace, naked and stripped of original glory, and homeless in a strange and foreign world.
“’Whoever receives one of these little ones . . . receives Me,’” our Lord once said (Mk. 9:37; Lk. 9:48). Yet, we do not go around trying to identify the least so as to pay them particular attention, but we do as our Lord has said elsewhere: We do unto others (the least as well as the greatest) as we ourselves would want done to us (Lk. 6:31). Why? Because our love for God (which is the first and great commandment, according to Jesus) is revealed and worked out in our love for others (which is the second great commandment, according to our Lord) (Mt. 22:37-40; Mk. 12:29-31). This is the whole of our life in Christ. Here the entire Law of God is fulfilled, just as our Lord has said. We freely give because we ourselves have freely received God’s grace, God’s love, God’s mercy (Mt. 10:8). We do not try to determine the worthy from the unworthy, but we simply do as has been done to us by our Lord. The goats, who are judged sharply, apparently are oblivious to this all (which is hard for us to comprehend since we have been taught to obey all that our Lord has commanded) (Mt. 28:20). It seems that they have allowed their faith, hope, and love to die on the vine by neglecting the fundamentals of the catechism. The sheep, however, live the fundamentals of the Faith in all humility, assuming nothing, not even presuming that they are sheep!
“[I]n Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Ga. 5:6). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Ga. 6:10).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God,
have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Cr. 8:8-9:2