In the book of Ecclesiastes we read, “To everything there is a time, and a season for every matter under heaven” (3:1). Great Lent is such a time. It is a holy season, when we are called upon to pray more, go to church more, fast more, and give more to the poor and the Church, right? But that’s not enough. Today, in the Gospel, we are being called upon to do something in addition, we’re being asked to stand before God in profound silence and contemplate our own death, and then, the Last Judgment which will take place when Christ appears at the Second Coming. This spiritual exercise is every bit as important as any other good work that we might do! Why? St. John of Kronstadt says this,
“Many of us live as if we don’t have to die and give an account of our lives. What does this mean? Doesn’t this happen because such people think that all they have to do is to repent just before they die, and they will receive a full pardon? Of course, God does not turn away those who come to him even at the eleventh hour, that is, if they turn to him with all their hearts. However, if your heart was far away from God for the longest part of your life, do you think that you will be able to move it toward God, to arouse in you a feeling of repentance before you die? Oh, brothers (and sisters)! It will be exactly then that your heart will be set against you, for your perdition.”
In today’s Gospel we read: “When (Jesus) comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 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.” Many translations have it like this. But is that what it really says? (Now you didn’t miss this, did you…his sheep and the goats? The sheep are His, but the goats have chosen to belong to somebody else…Satan.) In the Greek original it says “sheep,” yes, but does it say “goats?” No. The Greek word “ἐρίφων,” means, young goats, or “kids.” Big difference! It’s the same word we heard last week when the older brother of the prodigal son complained to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a kid (young goat, ἔριφος) that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29). So, what’s the difference? Goat…kid…what does it matter? St. John Chrysostom says,
“(Christ) indicates the dispositions of each group, calling the one group kids, the other sheep, that He might indicate the unfruitfulness of the one, for no fruit will come from kids; and the great profit from the other, for indeed from sheep great is the profit, as well from the milk, as from the wool, and from the young, of all which things the kid is destitute. But while the brutes have from nature their unfruitfulness, and fruitfulness, these have it from choice, wherefore some are punished, and the others crowned.”
Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the fig tree? He said,
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’” (Luke 13: 6-9).
We are the fig tree, aren’t we? The vinedresser is the Church, supplying all that is necessary for our health, growth, and fruitfulness. If we choose to remain immature, like the baby goat, we remain fruitless. This means that we have no serious love for God, and we have no love for our neighbor either. The fruit of love for God is care for our neighbor. Father Alexander Schmemann, in his wonderful book Great Lent, writes “sin is always the absence of love, (and) Christian love aims beyond this world. It is, itself, a ray, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all conditions of this world because its motivations as well as its goals and consummation is in God…The Parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love…and each one of us has been made responsible…(and we will be judged, as to) whether we have loved or refused to love.”
This is the heart, this is the clear message, of today’s Gospel reading. Therefore, let us focus ourselves on good deeds of love. Let us become more conscious of our mortality and reflect more frequently on our judgment. The Holy Fathers have shown us the direction we need to take on our Lenten journey, and which paths to follow. They are like road signs showing us the way to the Heavenly Kingdom, to the Lord’s eternal and unceasing Pascha. Amen.