On the Sunday of Judgement
“And He Will Separate Them One From Another”
Matthew 25:31-46, Judgement Sunday
Sermon Preached by Fr. Peter DeFonce on Sunday, March 6, 2005
When one of the lawyers from the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment of the Law of Moses, to test Him, He responded in the following way: “The first is ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Luke 12:29-31). In a clear and concise manner, the Lord weaves together the three great and God-given “loves” of humanity: the love we should have for God, the love we should have for our neighbor, and the love we should have for ourselves. Indeed, the entire Law and the Prophets can be summed up in this way; everything God offers us, expects of us, and will require of us on the Last Day, boils ultimately down to pure love, and nothing else.
As Christ explained to the Pharisee lawyer, our first and primary duty is to love God. God is our King and Creator, so we must love Him before anything or anyone else. The second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Obviously, it is presupposed that we do indeed love ourselves, the way that we ought to—we could hardly be expected to know what the law of love requires, if we have not first come to understand very viscerally what it means to love ourselves. In the modern world, in particular, this cannot be overstressed; in our age of widespread depression, soul-withering isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, and numerous other crippling addictions, we are seeing (as perhaps never before) just what it means when people do not properly love themselves.
Do we really understand the difference between the passion-driven and ego-stroking “self-love” condemned by the Scriptures and the Fathers, and the proper “self-love” actually expected by the Lord, as the model upon which we are to base the love of our neighbor? There is an exhaustive amount of talk these days about how we want to run our lives: our rights, our choices, our privileges, our demands, our goals, our expectations from society, our gifts, our vocations, our self-realization, etc. Consider the delights of food, for example. Do we not rejoice in eating our favorite meals, sometimes looking forward to eating more than any other part of our day? Do we not decide what we want to eat, when, and how much, fulfilling as many of our culinary fantasies as we can afford, all the while relishing the “freedom” and the “fellowship opportunities” that come along with our meals? What does this kind of lifestyle really do to us? Is it a sign of proper self-love, nourishing our bodies, keeping us healthy, building muscles and strengthening bones, or is it a diabolical trap… disfiguring our bodies with fat, rotting our teeth, saturating our blood with sugar and our blood vessels with plaque, stealing years from our lifespan, and enslaving us to consume everything that crosses our path?
Real love cannot abide by this manner of torture, by this degree of abuse, by this unyielding and intolerable burden of selfishness, by this burnt offering of our diseased souls. If this is how we treat ourselves, God forbid that we turn to our neighbors and treat them likewise! Brothers and sisters, this is not love! We cannot live our lives in this manner, and call it anything other than what it is—death, sin, or evil… Hades, Sheol, or Gehenna. In order for us to leave our homes and bring the love of the Risen Lord Jesus to those outside, we must begin at the beginning. Charity begins at home. We have to change the way in which we love ourselves, fleeing from idolatry of every sort, and drawing near to the spirit of Great Lent: fasting, abstinence, humility, chastity, obedience, perseverance, reverence, stillness, and prayer.
Once this understanding of real love is in place, then we can approach other human beings and perform the holy works for which we will stand in judgment on the Last Day. Jesus asks us to demonstrate the love God has for every person He has made, going directly to touch each of our “neighbors” in the place of his or her most obvious need. Furthermore, it is not as if we were given impossible demands; considering the immense weight of the glory which shall be revealed to us, the sweetness and delight of the eternal Face of the Father, the radiant dawn of the day which knows no evening, of what matter to us are a few humble offerings of bread, water, clothing, shelter, and welcome?
In this way, we show not only our love for other human beings, but for God who created them and sent His only-begotten Son to die for them. Christ takes every one of these interpersonal encounters, personally: “As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.” There really is no better way to demonstrate our love for God, since He has no need of anything from us. Note, however, that it isn’t just any person whom God asks us to love, but specifically the “least” (elachiston) of His brothers and sisters… although the Lord naturally expects us to help and care for our friends, family members, and co-workers, He is specifically concerned that we love those whom the world has forgotten. Where others pass by, we must stop and help. Where others ignore an outstretched hand, we must put something into it. Where others are too busy to share their time, we must share ours. Where others turn a cold shoulder, we must smile and engage. If we refuse to do these simple things, it is Christ Himself whom we deny.
When the end comes, Christ the King will ascend His glorious throne, surrounded by legions of angels, and He will call us all to stand before Him. Books will be opened, and the earthly deeds of all human beings shall be made known. Christ will confess before His Father and His holy angels all the persons whose names are inscribed in the Book of Life, and then He will proceed to separate us out to His right side and to His left, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. When that fearful day comes, let us remember that God desires “that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth,” and that the Lake of Fire was destined for the devil and his angels, not for any of us. If we are finally revealed to be those “blessed” of God the Father, inheriting the Kingdom which was prepared for us before the foundation of the world, we will see clearly that all along the way, behind the face of every person whom we chose to love with Christ’s love, was the Lord Jesus Himself. To Him be the glory, honor, power, and dominion, unto ages of ages. Amen.