Sunday, February 19, 2017

It’s What You Don’t Do that Matters Most

On the Third Sunday of the Triodion, known as “Judgment Sunday” in the Church, the Gospel of Matthew 25.31-46 teaches one of the well known Parables of the Last Judgment. In the story we hear the words, “When did we see you...” both from those in heaven and those in hell. For those in heaven, Jesus says, “I was hungry and you fed me...etc.” and for those in hell, He says, “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me.”  In truth neither actually saw Jesus, so what really is this Gospel story about?

As part of the Triodion and the Church’s effort to inspire us to change our lifestyle during Great Lent, we are reminded that how we treat other people, especially the poor and needy, makes a difference in how we experience eternal life. For those who were experiencing heaven, their life was filled with love and service for others. For those in hell, although they were willing to serve Jesus Christ, when it came to others in need they were unwilling to recognize the need to help. Our Great Lenten journey, which begins in just eight days, will be affected in how we recognize our relationship with others.

In this parable, those in heaven were there not because they did anything incorrectly or acted in a sinful manner. The way the parable plays out, they actually didn’t DO anything at all, and that was the problem. By doing nothing, they kept to themselves when others were in need, in effect not living as human beings. We are only authentic human beings when we are in a relationship with other human beings. When we love, it is because we act with love toward another human being. Anything other than love toward another human being is self-love which leads to hell. This is why those who were unable to see Jesus Christ “in” those in need were experiencing hell.

So what can change? ... WE can change.

We have been given the opportunity by God, today, to change our lifestyle and live with love toward others rather than with self-love. We have been given the opportunity during Great Lent to change the way we look at our fellow human beings, and I’m not just speaking about our fellow Greeks or members of the Church. If we want to find ourselves in heaven, in the end, then we will be able to “see” Jesus Christ in the face of every human being. We will be able to recognize the need for our help for those who are hungry, homeless, sick, or just down on their luck. We will be able to reach into our pocket and rather than seeing only ourselves, see the needs of others. But we will never see Jesus “in” others so long as we are focused on ourselves.

Great Lent offers each of us a unique blessed opportunity to accomplish both. We are invited by the Church to both change our inner soul through prayer and fasting AND change the way we love others by reaching out and helping those in need. In fact we are only saved in both our internal efforts and our external acts of love. How does prayer and fasting help us reach out to others? As Saint John Chrysostom teaches...

When we truly fast, we learn to be without. When we learn to live without, then we learn to not want for much. Then, without being so focused on our “wants” we can truly see the needs of others and serve them with genuine love. We will then see Jesus “in” the others rather than seeing others just as a group of people needing things we would rather keep to ourselves. It is when we do nothing at all that neither our inner soul nor our external actions glorify God. It’s when you do nothing that we will find ourselves in hell.

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