Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison and come to You? (Mt 25: 37-39) We heard these words of our Lord Jesus Christ this past Sunday on Meatfare Sunday or the Sunday of the Last Judgment. What is Meatfare Sunday? This is the third Sunday of Triodion and the last day we are allowed to eat meat until Pascha. The Gospel reading for that particular Sunday is from Matthew 25 which speaks about the Last Judgment. This will be Christ’s Second Coming in which He will judge the living and the dead.
The aforementioned question is asked by both the righteous and the wicked and to the righteous Jesus says: Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me. (ibid, 40) However, to the wicked he says: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me. (ibid, 42-43) The righteous will have eternal life in His Heavenly Kingdom and the wicked will be cast into eternal punishment with the Devil and his angels. Just one Sunday prior, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, we saw the compassion and love of God. That God will forgive our sins no matter how grave they are, as long as we repent. Certainly, a sharp contrast to the Sunday of the Last Judgment. At the vespers on Saturday evening we hear: On that day when You will come to render judgment with justice, You, O righteous Judge, will be seated on Your throne of glory, as the King of all. Before Your tribunal flows a fiery river, filling everyone with fear and awe; and all the bodiless hosts of heaven stand by attending You, as all humanity is judged, everyone according to what they did. Spare us then, O Master, as You are most compassionate, O Christ, and grant that we be among the saved, we implore with faith, O Lord. Although Christ will come as a Judge in all His Glory for the Last Judgment, we must remember that He shows us the way into His Kingdom. If we feed the hungry, we are feeding Him. Likewise, if we care for someone who is sick, we are really tending to Christ. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ clearly tells us who our neighbor is. It is that person who is need of our care and of our love, especially at a vulnerable and desperate time. It might even be someone who is our enemy. Christ told us: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you….But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. (Lk 6:27-28, 32-35)
Yes, it is hard to do good to those who hurt us or to give to those we don’t know but this is what Christ has called us to do. Of course we should be good to those who are good to us and to those who love us, but that is too easy. In our everyday life God provides opportunities for us to care for our neighbor. Whether it is giving a homeless person on the subway some money to eat or stopping to administer CPR to a person who collapsed on the ground, there are always opportunities. The question is are we going to be a passerby or a Good Samaritan? When we help our neighbor we can see Christ’s face in that person, even our enemy, provided that we act out of love and with humility. We must do this not with personal gain in mind in this world but rather spiritual gain in the Kingdom to come. We must give of ourselves with a pure heart, no strings attached and no expectations except to please God.
The day before the Sunday of the Last Judgment, is Saturday of the Souls, when we commemorate the departed who have gone before us. We pray that God will be merciful to them on the Last Day and grant them eternal life in His Kingdom. The departed need our prayers since they are no longer able to repent for their sins. They depend on the living to pray for them. So as we commemorate the dead on Saturday of the Souls, let us be mindful of our eventual death. We too will one day be among the departed and very much in need of prayers from the living.
Let the Saturday of Souls and the Sunday of the Last Judgment be an eye-opener for us that as long as we have breath in our lungs, we have the ability to correct our ways and prepare ourselves for the inevitable awesome and great Judgment of Christ.