Posted by: Fr Chris | February 11, 2023

The Last Judgment and Us – Meatfare Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46 The famous writer Leo Tolstoy tells this story: A shoemaker dreamed before Christmas Eve that our Lord, would be his guest the next day. But, warned Jesus,  Tonight I am going to visit your village. Look out for Me. I shall not say who I am.” All day he stayed in his shop, hoping to welcome Christ, and kiss his sacred wounds. Since he had no idea what size Jesus’ feet were, he decided to spend the day making his best shoes of all sizes.

He saw a young boy lighting the street lamps, who had no coat and was shivering, so the shoemaker wrapped him in his own blanket. Children came singing carols, and he gave them the tea he was saving for Christ. A widow and her children came along, so he gave them the soup he had  made for Christ. All the while he kept making pairs of shoes of different sizes, so as to give one pair to Jesus. But the Divine Guest never arrived. So he took all of the shoes to the local orphanage and put them next to the beds of the sleeping children. Then he went home, sad that Jesus had never come.

Then soft in the silence a voice he heard: “Lift up your heart for I kept my word.” He was of course, in the boy; the carolers; the widow and her family; the orphans.

We are commanded in the story, but even more so in Jesus’ own words today, that we must see Jesus in every single person we encounter. Each person alive is made in the image and likeness of God, whether or not we like them, whether or not they cut us off in traffic, or did better than us in our sport or class or job, whether or not they are dirty or clean, each person is Christ.

Outside of His parables, there are only three occasions when Christ explicitly speaks of the punishment of hell:

1. When people fail to perform works of mercy.

2. When adults corrupt children by bad example and serious scandal.

3. Whenever there is an unforgiving hatred of neighbor.

Jesus pulls no punches in his parables or his sermons. Why did people would travel for miles to see a man who told the truth bluntly, honestly, and openly condemned those who failed to obey God? Those folks were not that different from us, and the world they lived in was much like ours. They had families, jobs, goals in life; they all had hopes and dreams. But they also lived in a challenging fallen world.  The Sadducees and many of the temple clergy were corrupted by their cooperation with power and money. The Pharisees both attracted people by their piety and repelled them by their hypocrisy in overzealously enforcing hundreds of rules on every little aspect of life. Pagans worshipped the emperor, even though everyone knew he would get old and die. Like us, people worshipped their celebrities – we who foolishly adore rock stars, movie stars, athletic stars. Like us, they went to stadiums to cheer on their favorite teams, or wrestlers, or runners.

Huge crowds flocked to Jesus, walking for miles and miles, carrying their sick and possessed, hoping against hope that he would cure them. But they also walked for miles and miles, pagans and Jews, Greeks and Romans and Canaanites and, hoping to hear his words. They took comfort in his words, they were challenged by his words, they were converted by his words. And when the apostles went out after Pentecost, there was a harvest waiting for them among those who had been cured, those who had been delivered from demons, those whose loved ones had been saved, those who had heard Jesus’ words and gone home as changed men and women.

Today’s gospel proclaims that there will indeed be justice – this world plagued by injustice and tragedy and violence is not the world that God created. It is a world broken by sin. There will be a day when sin will get its comeuppance, and we will pay the penalty and earn the rewards. Those who lead the world astray through their public sins, through their endorsement of violence, through their constant acquiring of riches or power or both and who teach our young that power, wealth, and violence and the latest crazy fads are the only road to happiness will earn their reward at the end of time. And it will come. Time will end.

Why do we face east in our prayers?  Why do our priests still face the altar? Because like the first Christians, we wait for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We all stand together, with the pastor leading the congregation as the spiritual father. He lifts up his arms at “Lift up your hearts” to show that he is opening his own heart, waiting for the Coming of Christ. We wait for our judgment. We wait for our deliverance.

Jesus condemned those who failed to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: Corporal: To feed the hungry; To give drink to the thirsty; To clothe the naked; To give shelter to those in need; To visit the sick; To ransom the captive; To bury the dead.  Spiritual:      To instruct the ignorant ; To counsel the doubtful ; To admonish sinners ; To bear wrongs patiently; To forgive offences willingly; To comfort the afflicted; To pray for the living and the dead.

Jesus condemned those who harmed children – something that a lot of Catholic bishops apparently forgot in the last 60 years.

Jesus condemned those who hated their neighbor – something which is forgotten by racists and those who foster prejudice and violence.

Far too many people who are in positions of power and influence, in church and in society in general, have abandoned the gospel. But right now the challenge is for us who continue to be churchgoers, who continue to be worshippers, who continue to hold to the Catholic faith to be a people of compassion, a people of peace, a people of faith, a people who seek to do the right thing at all times.

In the Matins this morning this verse is proclaimed: O my soul, if you fast, do not deceive your neighbor. If you abstain from food, do not judge others, lest you go to be burned like wax in the fire. So, today is Meatfare, traditionally the last day to eat meat before Lent begins – but if I am judging, hating, lying and failing to do works of mercy, there’s no point in giving up meat or dairy products or a meal – if I am not fasting from sin, then I am not truly fasting.  Unless I am like the shoemaker, who treats others as if they were Jesus Christ, I am failing in my duties as a Christian.

The Matins ends with this: O faithful let us purify ourselves by repentance, the queen of virtues. Behold it brings an abundance of blessings: it dresses the wounds of the passions; it reconciles sinners with the Master. No one who lives is  perfect and sinless. We are all in need of repenting for something, of letting go of a behavior, an attitude, of changing my life and stopping actions that I know are wrong. We can lie to ourselves, but we cannot lie to God. In the end, today’s service proclaims, we will be condemned not for the bad that we do, but for our failures to do good.

We must be converted like those crowds who heard Jesus in person. We hear his words in the gospel at every Divine Liturgy, at every celebration of the holy eucharist.  Like them, we must take comfort in his words, be challenged by his words, be converted by his words. Only through our conversion will this city and state be converted to Christ. Only through our prayers will there be workers to go to bring in the harvest of souls. There are people in our lives who need conversion and healing, who want conversion and healing, who long to have their spiritual and emotional and physical and psychological wounds healed. It is up to us to go out of here as changed men and women, to go to our schools, our home school groups, our jobs, our neighborhoods, our clubs as messengers of God’s compassion through our behaviors.

There will be a judgment day as to how charitable and merciful we have been – not only do we want to go to heaven, but we must also must want to be able to say that yes, I lived in such a way that I saw you, my dear Lord, in every person around me.

Christ is among us.

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