Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Sunday of Meatfare/Last Judgment

The following homily is based upon Matthew 25:31-46

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

From Matthew 25 we just heard our Lord’s description of the Last Judgment. This sober passage, always read just before the start of Great Lent, reminds us once again that the choices we make throughout our lives really do matter, because each of us will stand before God on that Great and Terrible Day to be judged for our deeds and for what these ultimately reveal about our lives themselves.

It’s probably true that most people dismiss the idea of a final judgment. In the popular concept, if such a thing occurs, it will only be for the truly evil people and most of us “good” folks have nothing to fear. But the scriptures are clear that no one will be able to avoid "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” as it is called in Romans 2:5. All people will have no choice but to face God on that Day when the books will be opened and each man’s life will be laid bare.

What Matthew 25 makes clear, besides the fact that this event will be universal in nature, is the fact that the judgment of God will be based upon a judgment of love. In this passage, we see that the Righteous Judge will question people as to whether or not during their lifetimes they had taken notice of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and desperate, and the sick and those in prison, and made any effort to meet their needs. In other words, He will seek to know if we learned to act toward others out of love. We must understand that in this judgment He is not looking for merely occasional or random acts, but a pattern of love; really, a soul that has been transformed by love into becoming a true reflection of the love of God Himself.

The scriptures reveal to us a great deal about God and His character. Perhaps the most direct and profound revelation of this is found in the First Epistle of St. John, chapter 4, where the beloved disciple of Christ simply writes, “God is love”. The goal of the Christian life is to heal the many corrupted passions of our fallen nature and the unloving actions born from them such as envy, fighting, anger, gossip, greed, selfishness, lack of forgiveness, lack of concern for others and many more, and to replace all these with the love born of God. We are to become like God in His love for humanity, rather than completely centered upon ourselves. St. John also wrote, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”

What did Jesus do when He walked upon the earth? Did He not heal the sick, feed the hungry, show compassion on the sinners, and preach the message of God’s love to all? If we walk in these things, which are His commandments to us, we will be found to be both “in Him”, as John says, and engaged in the ongoing perfection of God’s love in us.

The love of God is a constant, being essential to His character. He desires that we have a share in the blessed, eternal communion of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and be healed by that. He wants that love to be born in us in this life and be expressed to others through us. He will judge us on the basis of this love. Did we receive His love and allow ourselves to be transformed, or did we reject his love and consistently throughout our lives form ourselves into the complete opposite of God and His love?

In the end, even the wrath of God will be nothing more that an expression of God’s constant love. As St. Isaac the Syrian wrote, “…those who find themselves in Gehenna will be chastised with the scourge of love. How cruel and how bitter this torment of love will be! For those who understand that they have sinned against love undergo greater sufferings that those produced of the most fearful of tortures. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing that any other pain. It is not right to say that sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God…But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed.”

We might say that those who have learned to love “love”, the love that is God, will find the presence of God in heaven to be bliss. Those who, like the devil and his angels, have become twisted and darkened in their essence, making themselves into the very opposite of love, will find God’s love to be a terrible reminder of all they have forfeited and an inescapable torment.

Without a doubt, love is the most powerful force in the universe. Out of love, God created the heavens and the earth and all they contain, including us. Out of love God made us as persons and placed His image in us that we might share in His communion of love. Out of love, God gave His Son to us to redeem and restore us. Love becomes the means of our salvation, as we learn to reflect the love God in the world around us. And love is both the joy of heaven and the torment of hell.

Perhaps we can enter into this coming Lenten season of self-examination and repentance, of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, with an eye toward growing in love. There are so many selfish tendencies that live in us unchallenged and even accommodated through much of our lives. We’re often “too busy” to love and extend help to others, too hurt or angry to forgive, too wrapped up in ourselves to even notice the needs which exist all around us. But if we do not incline ourselves to love now, love itself will judge us in the end and quite possibly not find itself within us.

God does not inflict torments on people in the afterlife, as some medieval theologians speculated. The torments of hell are those that we bring along with us, contained within our own selfish, spiteful, unloving souls. These are what we must correct through the many opportunities—often disguised as inconveniences—that God allows to occur during our lives. May we take advantage of these opportunities to grow in grace and in the perfection of love in Christ.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home