Homily for the Sunday of the Last Judgment

Matthew 25:31-46

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.  Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

          There is an old folk song that arose out of the labor battles of early 20th Century.  Its refrain was, “Which side are you on boys, which side are you on?”  The Church asks us this question today.  This day on the Orthodox Calendar in preparation for Lent…and for the rest of our lives we contemplate the dread judgment seat of God.  We are meant to take a moment to reflect upon which side our lives have put us.  Are we on the side of the Lord or are we with the opposition?

          “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.”

          Are we sheep or are we goats?  The Lord had just finished teaching using two parables: that of the Wise Virgins and the Foolish Virgins, and the parable of the talents.  Now Jesus speaks plainly.  No longer does he say, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”  He says, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory,” and we know something important, vital to our spiritual lives is about to be revealed…and it is.  As He originally came in meekness and quietly, then He will come in glory to judge, as we say in the Creed, “the living and the dead.”  Time is up and the reckoning is due….and how will that reckoning take place; by what criteria?

‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for 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; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

          Those on the Lord’s right, the sheep, are dumbfounded.  They cannot remember ever serving the Lord in this way.  When, they ask, had they ever served the Lord in such states as these?  Most would, of course, have lived at a time when the Lord was not on the earth physically in their presence.  Our Lord says simply, “as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”  There is not a single mention of fasting because fasting is a tool to train us in spiritual disciplines.  It is not an end in and of itself.  It does not mention building temples to the Glory of God; these are good things and give people a place to worship, and the Lord knows that we need a place to worship, but a building is not an end in and of itself.  It serves a purpose.  The passage does not mention, and this is crucial, the works of the Law.  These were tools meant to teach man about his limitations and his sinfulness.  Christ fulfilled the Law, though.  The Law of Moses will not save us.

          The Lord told us that we are to love the Lord with all of our hearts, our strength, our minds and our souls; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Doing this we will inherit eternal life.  In today’s passages we understand just what this means.  If we ever hunger can we let a neighbor starve?  If we are just poorly clothed, do we not clothe ourselves in new garments?  How could we not, then do the same for our neighbor who is naked?  If we were in prison do we not hope that someone would visit us?  How can we not do the same for our neighbors who are in prison, whether the prison of their infirmities of body and are trapped in their own homes, or in nursing homes, or behind the bars of a jail, the prison of their punishment, and hopefully rehabilitation?  Do we not wish for visitors when we are sick and lonely?  This is how we can love our neighbors as ourselves.  Now we understand by the Lord’s own words that these actions also carry a greater weight.  When we do them to our brother, we do them to the Lord Himself.

          We find out, though, that those who do not do these things….also do not do them to the Lord.  In other words by not loving our neighbor as ourselves, we are also not loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  It is interesting to note, though, that both groups when judged did not know that they were ministering, or not ministering as the case may be, to the Lord.  The sheep acted out of love and a love that was a result of their love of the Lord.  They did these things because they were the Lord’s. They were by their nature His Sheep.  They, in other words, did not do these things out of a calculation.  There was no “algebra of salvation.”  They did not say to themselves, “Hmmm, If I do x the Lord will give me y.  And since the Lord is a and the poor are b and a = b, if I do good to b I do good to a.”  That is not how love in action works.  It might be how we begin to acquire the habit of giving and loving, but eventually one has to abandon that kind of thinking and act spontaneously out of a purified and loving heart.  This is what it means for the left hand not to know what the right hand is doing.  This too, incidentally, is a reason why we fast and pray and engage in ascetic endeavors.  We try to purify our body and soul of the passions by the grace of God which helps our efforts in synergy with the Lord.  We lessen the ego and its hold on us so that we can go outside of ourselves and serve others.

          This path of philanthropy, this love of mankind, is not really that difficult when you look at it.  The Lord did not give us a new set of Laws that no man could truly fulfill as He did with the Law of Moses.  St. John Chrysostom points out that the Lord did not tell us to heal the sick, just to visit them.  He did not say to give someone who was thirsty great vats of wine, He said (in an earlier chapter),  “And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”  A shirt, a short visit, a cup of cold water:  these things are not monumental things or tasks.  They are everyday, commonplace tasks and things.  St. John writes, “Be He being gracious, requires only what is within our power, or rather even less than what is within our power, leaving us to exert our generosity in doing more.”

          The goats could not even do that little bit.  When one realizes how little actually is being asked of us, it is astounding that there will be any that are found to be goats instead of sheep.  Man was not made to be so selfish.  Man was made to be in communion with God and with his fellow creatures.  Both St. John Chrysostom and Blessed Theophylact point out that the fires of hell were not created for man, but it was, as Christ says, “prepared for the devil and his angels.”  the Lord has said that he desired “mercy not sacrifices.”  (It is the Kingdom that was prepared for man from the foundation of the world)  

          The oil that the foolish virgins lacked has often been likened to the oil of the virtues and almsgiving, but those who are to be culled out of God’s flock as the goats will have lacked, as the demons did, the virtues of compassion and mercy.  It is fitting then, as Blessed Theophylact writes, that they should receive the same fate as the demons.  He, again, notes that God did not make hell for man, “but I make myself liable to hell.” he writes.  He goes on in an interesting passage:

Tremble then, O man, and understand from this that these men were not punished as fornicators, or robbers, or perpetrators or any other vice, but for not having done good.

          The Church in Her wisdom has placed this day before us as a reminder that we can amend our lives.  The last judgment has not happened yet and so we have a chance to turn from our sins and live.  We are not told these things to scare us, or discourage us, but to be a spur toward virtue, to change.  We are called to take an honest look at our lives and make changes where needed.  Though the language of the hymnography can be harsh, they are tempered with hope.  As long as we still have life, we still have the chance to turn toward the Lord with love in our hearts.  We can serve our fellow man with love as well.  Though we are weak, even lazy at times, the Lord can give us help to reform. 

          The hymns of our Church express our fears and our hope:

The time is at hand, O my soul.

Turn to the good and loving Savior!

Beg Him to forgive thy malice and weakness, as thou crieth in faith:

“I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against Thee,

but I know Thy love for all mankind.//

O good Shepherd, call me to enjoy Thy lasting presence on Thy right


          We do not know the day of the Lord’s judgment, though, so we are called to live our repentance now, not to put it off to some future time.  There are many ways to live out the Lord’s commandment every day.  We meet Christ every day of our lives, now we have to truly see Him as well. 

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.  Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!






2009 Fr. Philip Kontos