In the ancient Tradition of the Church, the penultimate Sunday before the start of Great Lent is the Sunday of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). On this day, the Gospel lection is the parable Jesus told about all the nations being brought before the Son of Man, Jesus, where he will judge them. He will separate the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the wicked. The righteous will inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The wicked will depart into the everlasting fire prepared–note: not for them–but for the devil and his angels. The righteous inherit what has been prepared for them; the wicked gain that which was prepared for someone else.
That this parable is one which Jesus himself gave has never been denied until modern times. And it is denied on the basis either of that understanding which denies the reality of God altogether or on the basis of that understanding of God based on honest misunderstandings of the biblical and patristic tradition or on deliberate falsifications of that tradition. In short, the reality of the Gospel is that Jesus will judge the nations. He came once to save. He comes again to judge.
But note the basis of the judgement: not some Augustinian or Calvinist system of God’s divine foreknowledge and predestination. Rather, the nations are judged on one single standard: Christ. It is what the nations did or did not do with regard to Christ which determines their destiny. And note the context in which actions for or against Christ are judged: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the prisoners. (I’ll not go here into whether or not “my brothers” in the parable refers to Christians or just humanity in general. Though I think the Gospel context on this is clear, and therefore more particular, it’s a point for another blog.)
I know there are well-meaning Christians who find the idea that Christ himself will judge the nations difficult, even repugnant. How could a God of love condemn anyone to everlasting condemnation? To which one appropriate response is another question: How could a God of love deny anyone their repeated and considered choice? For those who have repeatedly denied God again and again, heaven would be worse than hell. God is not so unjust as to deny us the consequences of our choices and actions.
And note this also: Those who depart into the everlasting fire depart not on the basis of one grand all-encompassing decision. Rather, they are judged on the basis of their repeated little actions: not feeding the hungry, not clothing the naked, not visiting the sick and the prisoners. In other words, just like salvation, judgment comes from a lifetime of small decisions.
I was prepared for today’s Gospel lection by my very own actions this morning prior to going to worship. I got up feeling tired and ugly. My duty every morning is to pray the Morning Prayers of the small red service book I have. This morning I most definitely did not want to. I kept procrastinating (yes, it was most crucial that I log on and download my email; yes, I must eat something, I feel so sick, and besides why should I keep the fast since I can’t partake of communion yet anyway; and so on). But finally, I dragged myself in front of the icons, lit the candle, and began praying. And a most dismal display it was, too. Not only did I not feel enlightened, anyone else joinging me would have feel the deep pit of slack that emanated around me.
But when I was done and as I was heading out of the house, somehow, God had blessed my feeble efforts, and I felt prepared to worship.
Then I got to service and heard: “It’s not the grand decisions which form the basis of our destiny. It’s the accumulation of all the small ones.”
Thank God for his great mercy. And may he continue to save me. And may I continue to work our my salvation with fear and trembling, knowing it is He who works in me both to will and to do his good pleasure. And may I one day hear, “Enter into your inheritance in the Kingdom which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Glory to God in all things.