In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Glory be to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. Dear beloved in the Lord, we stand this morning knocking on the doors of Great and Holy Lent. For many of us, this is not only an auspicious time, but one we anticipate a great deal: the solemn, quiet darkness of Pre-sanctified Liturgies, the engaging, spiritual community of multiple retreats, and the bold, loving consolation of a heavenly father who, like the earthly father in last Sunday’s parable, waits for our return home from wandering in the wilderness of sin. So many things to look forward to— they all should help us to understand the terrifying image shown to us in this morning’s Gospel. For the Lord of glory will indeed come again to judge the living and the dead and this knowledge should bring us to repentance.
In the face of this news, I hear us succumb to three kinds of internal temptations. We may say to ourselves, “But couldn’t I have just a bit more time ? I mean, I’m not ready to host the Lord in the house of my soul; my place is a mess! I need time to clean it first. I’m not ready to reckon the account of my deeds in this life. Couldn’t I just file for an extension? I’m not ready to suffer the path of Salvation, the spiritual labor of fasting, the painful self-sacrificial giving of alms. Couldn’t it all just wait until I’m ready? The Lord says to us as he said to Zacchaeus, “Today, I am coming to your house… Behold now is the accepted time; now is the day of Salvation.” Not tomorrow. Not a week from now, but today, with all of our fears, with all of our insecurities, and with all of our short-sighted judgments of what would be good for us. Today is the day.
At beholding this awesome vision of the last judgment, we face a second temptation. Not only am I not ready to face this, but is this message of separating sheep and goats really meant for me? I mean, doesn’t my mere presence in church here on Sunday morning make me a member of the righteous? Aren’t I doing enough already? While coming to church certainly places us in a better position to hear and respond, let us remember that it did not help the pharisee at all in the parable two Sundays ago. In fact, being in the temple was almost worse for him because it led him to increase the false image he had of himself, whereas for the publican, it led him to deeper humility. In this morning’s Gospel, the nations are all gathered together in the same place in the presence of the Lord of glory, but they have very different responses to Christ. The sheep cannot recall all the times they saved Christ in disguise while the goats cannot recall when they failed to serve him. Saint Theophylact and other fathers testify that by “the nations”, the Lord means not just to separate and sort people, but parts and tendencies inside of each of us. Inside of us, there are sheep-like parts that know their place and serve the Lord well and goat-like parts that don’t— parts that stubbornly insist on their own way and succeed only in cutting us off from God and from our fellow human beings. If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that there’s a whole lot inside of us that could use the touch of the Great Physician of souls.
And this leads us to our third and final temptation in the face of this judgment: despair. Okay, so the time is now and this message is for me, but I am just too screwed up to be healed. My sin is too great to be forgiven by Almighty God. Brothers and sisters, if this is where you are at this morning, I challenge you with the words of the Psalmist that, “He is merciful and mighty to save who deigned also to suffer for our sake.” What does this mean? You are not alone in your despair. For the same God who created the world became all that we are so that we can become again fully human and partake of his divine energies. Hear the prayer of the prodigal son voiced by last Sunday’s sessional him during Matins:
Make haste to open to me by fatherly embrace for I am a prodigal and I have wasted my life. In Thy unfailing mercy, reject me not in my poverty. For with tears, I cry to thee, father, I have sinned towards heaven and against thee.
Let us hasten to these doors of repentance brothers and sisters now lest we be shut out with the goats from the Kingdom of heaven. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.