Today as we continue our preparation for Great Lent we hear Jesus Christ’s challenging words about the last judgment. We are told how, on the final day, He will separate the sheep from the goats, the sheep being those who will go to their eternal reward, and the goats being those who will go to their eternal punishment.
The Church takes the idea of a final judgment seriously precisely because it takes life seriously, and in the coming period of Lent we are called to look seriously at our lives and see where they are leading us. Even without the expectation of God’s judgement, we are still inclined to judge ourselves, for we have an innate fear of getting to the end of life and discovering that we have wasted our opportunities.
However, in this Gospel we see Jesus Christ introducing a new dimension into our ideas of judgement. We will be judged not simply on whether or not we kept certain laws, or even whether or not we are “good” people, but rather on whether or not we have loved.
Christianity is not a religion based on keeping laws, or even doing good things, admirable though these may be. Rather, it is based on relationship – our relationship with God and our relationship with those around us. And in this Gospel we see how these two elements are intimately connected. God reveals Himself to us in those around us and it is in our response to them that we see our response to Him. For it is only by acknowledging the personhood of others, and learning to see Christ in them, that we find the key to our own salvation.
O my soul, the time is near at hand; make haste before it is too late, and cry aloud in faith: ‘I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against Thee; but I know Thy love for man and Thy compassion, O Good Shepherd…
From Vespers for the Sunday of the Last Judgement