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Matthew 25: 31-46
It was forty-three years ago when Los Gatos resident Gary Dahl was sitting with some friends in a bar up in Bonny Doon. During the course of their conversation, Gary’s friends began to complain about their pets – the time required, the expense, the walking, the cleaning-up, etc. This gave Gary an idea for the perfect pet – a rock. A pet rock would require no food, would not have to be walked, bathed, or taken to the vet. A pet rock would not be disobedient, it would not get sick, and best of all, it would not die. So, a fad was born, the Pet Rock. Gary designed packaging out of cardboard that looked like a pet carrier, with air holes on the sides and straw on the bottom. An instruction booklet was included with tips on the care and training of your Pet Rock. Gary sold about one and a half million Pet Rocks, imported from Rosarito Beach in Baja California practically for free, for around $4 each. Gary made a small fortune. The fad was great fun for about six months and then quickly faded away. Why? Because the Pet Rock didn’t DO anything. Oh, it could “sit” and “stay” magnificently. But to get it to “roll over” you had to prod it with a stick or a spoon. It was great as an attack or guard pet, as long as you threw it! By itself, the Pet Rock did nothing. Hence, it was good for nothing.
One of the Lord’s big complaints about the Pharisees was that they didn’t do anything either. They made a big show of religiosity, but they didn’t really do anything to help anyone. He said: “they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to assist them. All their deeds are done to be seen by men” (Matthew 23:4).
The truth is, faith is demonstrated by deeds; faith is verified by works. The Holy Apostle James, the Brother of the Lord and First Bishop of Jerusalem wrote: “What good is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what good is it? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Today is the fourth of the Pre-lenten Sundays. We often hear it called Meatfare Sunday, because it is the last day before Great Lent that we can eat meat. More properly though, it is called the Sunday of the Last Judgment because liturgically the Church focuses on the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment, derived from St Matthew’s Gospel which we just heard. Today the Church reminds us where we will all ultimately find ourselves: standing before the “dread judgment seat of Christ.”
The texts from the services are powerful and unambiguous. For example, here are some verses from the 3rd Ode of the Canon at Matins:
The Lord cometh, and who can endure the fear of Him? Who can appear before His face? But be thou ready to meet Him, O my soul.
Let us hasten, let us weep, let us be reconciled with God before the end; for fearful is the judgment seat where we shall all stand stripped naked.
Have mercy, O Lord, have mercy, I cry out unto Thee; for Thou shalt come with Thine angels to recompense unto all, according as their deeds deserve.
How shall I endure the unendurable wrath of Thy judgment, since I have disobeyed Thy commandments, O Lord? But spare me, spare me, at the hour of judgment.
These verses are the cries of the guilty. They are deep cries for mercy. They are our cries.  We stand before the Just Judge, and what are our crimes? What have we done to face such a fearful condemnation? Today's Gospel gives us the answer, and shockingly, it is not murder, not adultery, not even blasphemy... but only one thing - lack of charity, which is, in essence, lack of love. It is the sin of doing nothing.
In the Old Testament, Joshua ben Sirach writes “Do not let your hand be stretched out to receive and closed when it is time to give.”  Sirach 4:31
And David says: “Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”  Psalms 40:1
And St John Chrysostom said this: “Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, ‘This is my body,’ and made it so by his word, is the same who said, ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.’ Honor Him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.”
Dear ones, in today’s Gospel we hear about six specific acts of charity:
Feeding the hungry
Giving drink to the thirsty
Taking in strangers
Clothing the naked
Visiting the sick
Visiting those in prison
These are all meant quite literally, certainly, but they are also meant spiritually.
St. Theophylact of Ohrid writes: You, then, O reader, flee from this absence of compassion, and practice almsgiving, both tangible and spiritual. Feed Christ Who hungers for our salvation. If you give food and drink to him who hungers and thirsts for teaching, you have given food and drink to Christ. For within the Christian there is Christ, and faith is nourished and increased by teaching. If you should see someone who has become a stranger to his heavenly fatherland, take him in with you. While you yourself are entering into the heavens, lead him in as well, lest while you preach to others, you yourself be rejected. If a man should cast off the garment of incorruption which he had at his baptism, so that he is naked, clothe him; and if one should be infirm in faith, as Paul says, help him; and visit him who is shut up in the dark prison of this body and give him counsel which is as a light to him. Perform, then, all of these six types of love, both bodily and also spiritually, for we consist of both soul and body, and these acts of love are to be accomplished by both. (The Explanation, p.221)
Today, the Church calls us to remember these things, to examine ourselves, our actions, our inner hearts. Are we full of love, performing acts of charity both tangible and spiritual, without boasting, not even allowing the right hand to know what the left hand is doing? And do we see in the face and eyes of all human beings the face and eyes of Christ? This is the Lord’s word for us this day. May He grant us the grace and the resolve “both to will and to do that which is His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Amen.