More than once does the Gospel give us a warning on the way in which we shall be judged and on the way in which we can save ourselves from condemnation. There is a passage of the Gospel in which the Lord says: It is not everyone who will have called Me ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There will be such who will come to Me and say, Have we not broken bread in the precincts of Thy Temple? Have we not prayed, have we not sung Thy glory? And I shall say to them: Go away from me doers of iniquity.
So, it is not by outward signs of piety that we shall find salvation. The Gospel which we read on the Day of the Publican and the Pharisee already tells us something about this. The pharisee had been faithful in everything outwardly, but inwardly he had remained cold and dead to the only thing that matters — loving. He might have said to the Lord: But have I not prayed so often in Thy Temple? He would have heard the words which I quoted a moment ago, and he might have remembered also a passage from the Old Testament that says that the prayer of one who does not forgive his brother is abomination before the face of the Lord.
And so we are confronted to-day with the Gospel of the Last Judgement. A day will come, and it may not be after we die, it may be at a moment when we are suddenly illumined, when light comes into our mind, that we will ask ourselves: Where is salvation? Can I hope for anything at all? We have had the first answer to this question in the person of the publican. He could pride himself on nothing, nothing at all. He was a traitor to his nation, he was greedy, he was unworthy of his people, of the Testament that was the rule of the nation. And yet, he realized that he was totally, utterly, hopelessly unworthy, and he stood, not daring even to enter the Temple, because the Temple was the place where the Lord lives, a place as holy as God’s presence makes it; and he beat his breast saying: Forgive me; I am a sinner. That is a first step towards forgiveness, towards a healing of our life and soul.
To-day we are confronted with something else. It is not strict adherence to forms of life; it is not piety, the kind of piety which one can put in inverted commas; it is not praying if we pray unworthily, that saves us. The Lord at the Last Judgement, as it appears clearly from this passage of the Gospel, will ask us nothing about the tenets of our faith, or about the way in which we have tried outwardly to please Him. He will ask us: Have you been human, or inhuman? When you saw someone who was hungry, did your heart turn to him in compassion and did you give him food? When you saw someone homeless, did you think of a way of providing a roof and a little warmth and safety for him? When we were told that someone, perhaps someone we knew, had disgraced himself and been put into prison, did we overcome the shame of being his or her friend, and go to visit him? When we saw someone to whom we could give the surplus of what we have, the unnecessary coat, the unnecessary object which we possessed — did we turn and do that? That is all the Lord is asking concerning the Last Judgement.
As I said before, His only question is: Have you been human in the simplest way in which any pagan can be human? Anyone can be human who has a heart that can respond. If you have, then the doors are open for you to enter into the Kingdom and to become by communion with God, not sacramental communion, but a deeper communion even than the Sacrament, become one with Him and grow into being the Temple of the Spirit, the Body of Christ, a place of His incarnate presence.
But if we have been inhuman, how can we think of being divine? How can we think of being partakers of the Divine Nature, of being like Christ, possessed of the Holy Spirit, alive for eternity? None of these can be true. And today, we are confronted with the Judgement, with this clarity, this sharpness and His mercy. Because God is merciful; He warns us in time. It takes one moment to change one’s life. It is one moment that is needed, not years, so that the oldest of us can in one moment see the ugliness, the horror, the emptiness, the evil of our lives, and turn to God with a cry, crying for mercy. And the youngest can learn now that it is time, step by step, to be simply human. If we are human, then we become the friends of God, because to be a Christian means to choose Christ for one’s friend. And you know what friendship means; it means solidarity, it means loyalty, it means faithfulness, it means being at one in soul, in heart, in action with the one who is our friend. This is the choice we all have made, seemingly, and forgotten so often.
So to-day we are confronted with this Gospel of the Judgement. But we can do something now to face it. After the Service, at the doors, there will be a collection for “Crisis”. “Crisis” is an organization which looks after those who are homeless and have to live on the streets, who depend on the passer-by to have a chance to eat, who depend on the mercy of people. Well, face today’s reading of the Gospel. Face it not only emotionally but in fact, and when you are confronted with a plate at the doors of the Church, give, give generously, give with your whole heart, give as you would wish to be given if you were in the street, unprotected, alone, hoping beyond hope, or having lost all hope in human charity.
We have got a few moments to do a thing which is infinitely simple. Let us do it, and may God’s blessing be upon anyone who will have done something, not just a little, but as much as possible, to enable another person to stay alive, to breathe, not to collapse.
Published: Newsletter № 271, 1994 April