We are a nation of people who love to judge. It is evidenced by the programming we prefer to watch on TV; shows like “American Idol” invite us to make a phone call and judge who stays and who goes. There are any number of court type dramas such as “The Peoples Court,” “Judge Judy,” “Judge Joe Brown” and others, where our entire legal system is wrapped up into a ten minute judgment, not to mention an entire cable network, Court TV. And it is evident by how we tend to judge others, despite our admonishment from Jesus, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” (Matt 7:1)
But, in today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus telling His Disciples and all of us exactly what will take place at the end of the world, when the Son of Man comes in His Glory and sits upon the judgment throne. This scene is unlike anything we have seen on television, in that Jesus, the Ultimate Judge, does not need to hear our defense before we are sentenced to our fate in eternity, for He knows all of our actions committed, physically, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually. It may be easy for us to twist information or try to justify our actions when being judged by others, but we all know we can’t fool God. God knows everything we have done, why we did it, and what resulted from it.
He will separate everyone as a shepherd separates sheep from goats – the sheep signify righteous people by reason of their gentleness, because they harm no one, and by reason of their patience, because when they are harmed by others, they bear it without resistance. Jesus refers to sinners as goats because of their many vices. They came to symbolize evil and the expression scape-goat has become a common expression for someone bearing blame for others.
Then he will say to those on his right, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." This is the invitation all of us pray we will one day hear. It is the summation of our entire lives as Orthodox believers who walk the talk.
God knows the hearts of truly compassionate people, and God wants our hearts to be truly compassionate. God says to be compassionate to our favorite family or favorite friends is quite easy and comes quite naturally, but it is another thing to be truly compassionate to the hurting people of this world…to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. God wants our hearts to be truly compassionate to the hurting people in our world around us, and not merely to our favorite family and favorite friends.
That is what makes the sheep on His right side righteous. They don't know their own good deeds. Maybe they called them good deeds; maybe not. Often their right hand doesn't know what their left hand is doing. They did what they did because of the necessity to help, to love and serve, visit and feed because they had been helped, loved, served, visited, and fed. They were infused with the oil of gladness, the Spirit poured into their hearts, and they simply did what they did.
Those on the left side, the unrighteous, knew what they were doing. They kept score of how many times they helped others, the amount they gave, they made sure their picture was in the paper for serving at a soup kitchen, attending a charity ball, and they knew what compelled them to help: social pressure, the desire for recognition, and the thought that, “Someday I may be in that position, God forbid, and I hope someone will help me."
Do we keep score? Have you ever said, "Well, I won't volunteer again; I didn't get thanks for all my hard work." Or "my goodness didn't even get recognized." Do we always have to be asked, stroked, cajoled, pampered, or be sure we're going to have a wonderful time before anyone gets our help? Is that sheep language or goat language? My brothers and sisters, only you can answer that question in the silence of your own hearts.
The early church fathers have wisely placed this Gospel reading before us as we slowly enter the season of the Great Fast. Today’s kontakion is meant to awaken us from our spiritual sloth by reminding us of the terrible day of the Last Judgment: “O God, when You shall come down upon earth in your glory, every creature shall tremble before You. A river of fire shall flow before your judgment-seat, the books shall be opened, and all secrets revealed. On that day, O Just Judge, deliver me from eternal fire and make me worthy to stand at your right hand.” (Kontakian, Sunday of Meatfare)
It is never too late for us to change directions, as Disciples of Christ. In fact, sometimes, it is absolutely necessary for us to make course corrections. There is an interesting story of two battleships that were on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. One evening as night fell on the foggy sea the Captain decided to stay on the bridge to keep an eye on things. The lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow." The captain asked if it were steady or moving astern. The lookout replied, "Steady, Captain," which meant they were on a collision course with something. The Captain called to the signalman: "Signal that ship that we are on a collision course; 'advise that you change course twenty degrees.'" Back came a signal, "advise you change course twenty degrees." The captain said, "Send. 'I am a captain, change course twenty degrees.'" The reply came back, "I am a Seaman, Second Class. Change your course twenty degrees, immediately." By this time the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send! 'I am a battleship. Change your course twenty degrees!'" Back came the message, "I am a lighthouse. Change your course twenty degrees."
As we journey on into the Great Fast, allow yourself to change course. Each week during the Great Fast, we will celebrate the PreSanctified Liturgy. Father will be available for confessions before and after services. We’ll celebrate the All Souls Saturdays; we will continue to celebrate the monthly healing service through the intercession of St. Nectarios the Wonderworker. In other words, there are ample opportunities to come to God’s house and pray, to light a candle as a silent devotional that continues to burn while you continue your daily labors.
Join us as we assemble as a community of faith and help each other along the path that leads to the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord. Re-read today’s Gospel lesson, and use Jesus’ words as the blueprint of what is necessary to be one of those counted as sheep. Let us all do these good deeds as our Lord commands, without keeping score as the unrighteous, and let us all pray that one day, we too will hear Our Lord tell us, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Amen.