What if when we die, we all end up in the same place? What if we all end up in heaven? What if we don’t like being in heaven? The story of the Last Judgment found in Matthew 25.31-46 lays out the criteria Christ will use in our judgment. Are we able to see others in the same way Christ sees them? The story isn’t about making a list of required tasks, but rather whether how we see others. If we can’t see them in the same light that Christ see them, we may not recognize heaven when we get there.
Half way through the Triodion, and we have been reminded that we are all sinners in need of repentance, and that when one does repent and return home, we must welcome them with open arms. On the third Sunday of Triodion, known as Judgment Sunday, we are reminded of another danger.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches more than just repentance. It also teaches those who “never left” that we are called to welcome home those who left the Church. When they return home, it will be our opportunity to restore them to the original honor and status they enjoyed before leaving. If we are unable to welcome them home, and be filled with the same joy as the Lord at their return, we will be the ones who find ourselves outside the kingdom.
I often hear Christians challenge the “need” for “organized religion” in their life. Many believe the Christian journey is about a singular relationship with Jesus Christ. Many believe that so long as they believe in the hear that Jesus is Lord, there is no “need” to be part of a Church community. In fact this is such a large demographic of Christians, that researchers have coined them “nones” because they belong to no denomination or Church.
The Church helps us see to silliness in having pride when it comes to our spiritual journey. “Thank You God! I’m not like all the other sinners in the Church!” If we ever witnessed a Church leader begin prayer with such a ridiculous prayer, we would turn away and run for the hills. On the other hand, Christian humility isn’t about calling ourselves ugly names either. True Christian humility is about being honest with where we are in life. True Christian humility helps us see that we are all sinners and we need God’s mercy.
Every now and then the Church is thrust into a debate by people demanding a response. Last week was the annual March for Life, and throughout the day my social media feed was filled with challenges to those who declare themselves “Pro-Life” and against abortion. Of course this is just one of the hot button topics of our day, but nonetheless, the Church is often thrust in the midst of a debate which, quite frankly is not an honest one. I’ve written before about why I do not engage in political debate, so today’s post is not about the right to life or abortion.
On the Sunday before Triodion the Church brings our attention to Zacchaeus. He was a short, rich, sinful tax collector who wanted to see Jesus. Since he couldn’t see over the crowd, he climbed above the crowd to see Jesus. When Jesus came to stay at Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus promised to give half of everything he had to the poor, and return fourfold anything he had received through false accusation. It just took a little climbing and he was saved. We are surrounded by so many temptations that we can’t always see God.
Much ink has been spilled over the centuries attempting to prove the existence of God. Philosophers have published thousands of pages debating the existence of God. Hollywood has developed miles of film featuring conversion stories that have come as a result of debate. Truth is, however, you can’t prove God.
From the time Jesus began to teach, He invited us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4.17) This invitation from our Lord is crucial to our experiencing His love as heaven rather than hell. Since our ancestors fell trap to the devil’s temptation in the Garden, we humans have been looking at the world through our fallen eyes with our fallen human condition. When Jesus invites us to repent, He is challenging us to change our mindset, to change our view point, and look at the world from God’s point of view.
I encounter many faithful Christians, both Orthodox and non Orthodox, who lament the various temptations they feel throughout the day. Look here. Do this. Say that. God there. So many temptations, such frustration. Many think that God had promised to protect us from temptation. Many believe, ‘just believe in God more, and He will place a magical sphere of protection around your mind.’ Of course, living just a few days as a believer in Christ teaches us this is just not the case. Temptation never ceases, but that is to be expected. Jesus was also tempted.