Christian Practice

Seeing Jesus, Always Seeing Jesus

Published on: March 8, 2024
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Last Judgment

When You, O God, shall come to earth with glory, / all things shall tremble / and the river of fire shall flow before Your judgment seat; / the books shall be opened and the hidden things disclosed! / Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, / and make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, Most Righteous Judge!—Kontakion, Tone 1

As we approach the awesome Divine Liturgy of the Sunday of the Last Judgement, with its proclamation of the Gospel from Matthew about the Sheep and the Goats, it is sometimes difficult to fathom that we are actually commemorating the unimaginable Sunday of God’s Judgement. But isn’t the Last Judgement, after all, the threshold we endure to arrive at the great reunion with God Almighty at the End of Time?—when “God will wipe away every tear” and “death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4). My goodness, reunion with the love which created us and loves us unconditionally is thrilling and comforting to contemplate, both at the End of the Ages and at the end of our days. Why isn’t this called Reunion with God Sunday?

But then, is the Sunday of God’s Judgement really necessary? Well, for one thing, even if it may not be the reason the observance developed its traditional place in the Eastern Orthodox Church Kalendar, we may now need this observance more than ever if we have gradually come to believe, in the unabashed illusion of our self-sufficiency, that, really, there is no Judgement—not really. And we may find that this has become a dangerous symptom of our privilege and entitlement as educated urban people. But make no mistake about it. Jesus Christ is cornering you this very day, and he is warning you about God’s Judgement. And He is offering you the precious gift of his Parable to ease the way toward your personal Repentance in Lent. Are you ready for Repentance in Lent?

Before you answer, let us consider a little background about biblical times. For it is interesting to ask: Why do we even need to separate the sheep from the goats, anyway? Does Jesus mean goats are bad? Or could it be that, as we are hearing the parable-explanation from Jesus nowadays about God’s Judgement, is there something here that everybody knew back when He was teaching that has been forgotten by us modern-day faithful? Certainly, sheep and goats together in the daytime is what we expect to see, all throughout the day on the sunny hillside. But then, when the sun goes down, and the woolly sheep are still comfortable during the chilly night, the goats become cold and vulnerable. They need to be individually identified and led by the shepherd to a more protected place for the night.

It’s not really that goats are bad. So, we may have tended to demonize goats over the centuries as we’ve grown less knowledgeable about sheep-herding than Jesus was. But the teaching of Jesus stands sound and formidable here. For the goats represent sinners who are, indeed, more vulnerable and need enhanced protection from God. Isn’t that amazing to realize? Why, this may add a whole new wrinkle to the idea of sheep and goats in the light of Christian love. Now, one might ask, what makes our love Christian? Aren’t we naturally loving before our passions and our sinful selfishness takes over? Here, then, is one of the eternal truths shining through from Our Lord Jesus Christ teaching us this very Gospel lesson today: What makes our love Christian—what makes our loving actions and our repentant awakenings Christian—is seeing Jesus Christ in other people and regarding them with kindness and generosity. Recognizing Jesus in the face of those we help and serve makes us Christian. That’s what the Parable is teaching us.

So, this Gospel story from Our Lord and Savior is setting us on the right-spirited path of seeing the vision of Christ in all our neighbors whom we encounter, and in all the service of our everyday interactions. And if we, perhaps, slip for a moment, distracted from that vision, it is through the love of Jesus Christ that we can return to it again. Then, we can be calmly ready for God’s Judgement—at the End of Time, and even at the end of the day. So, is God’s Judgement upon us being enacted in the mighty storm damage we keep hearing about, and suffer from time to time? No—that’s simply Nature that God created. Is God’s Judgement being enacted upon us in the scourge of Covid?—No. But, isn’t AIDS God’s punishment for gay people?—absolutely not. However, I tell you truly, the Judgement of God Almighty in Heaven is no less true and threatening if it remains a divine mystery more terrifying than we can imagine or presume to evaluate or compare to the calamities of modern-day Nature and man-made earthly destruction.

How fortunate we are, then, that we are being judged by the mercy of the all-good God in Love. God judges the creatures he molded with his own hands in his own image with lovingkindness. And God’s love is always surrounding you and supporting you. Just think, then, how God’s love is approaching you in loving Judgement in the cool of the day. Therefore, be ready with the kindnesses of the day which you can amass—and humility about the negligent and selfish actions you may have committed—to be found worthy in God’s eyes as the shadows lengthen. As we see the Vesper light, and we sing God’s praises, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are gifted with a tantalizing glimpse of our own eternity coming home to God. And eternity is always with us, when we gaze at the Beauty of the Lord in the Divine Liturgy, and in every twinge of repentance that jolts us in mind of our own mortality and our own personal End of Days. Eternity is always near us, every time we see Jesus. And remember that this Parable was not preached by Jesus to the wider world of skeptics, to bring in new believers, but to the inner circle of Jesus followers, to clarify the Beauty of their faith.

Pascha is coming. Lent is soon upon us, and Pascha is coming. Live this day, then, my beloved, so that you do not need to flee to the mountains as your actions this day are judged by your Father in Heaven. In the goings and comings of your day, seek to live out each action, each personal decision, warmed by the presence of God’s love surrounding you and seeing clearly Christ Jesus, the Son of God, in the face of everyone around you. Show your children, your students, your friends; and teach them by your example the fear of God. We are all sinners; we are all vulnerable to God’s mercy and protection, in need of the protected place he can provide for the dangers of the night ahead. And indeed, God has provided his Son, his beloved Son, that whosoever navigates life’s challenges acknowledging seeing Jesus Christ in their neighbors and providing for their needs; whosoever sees Jesus in their fellow worker and in their spouse, they will be restored, even in the glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven granted to us every day. And to those who realize and acknowledge that they have been un-kind this day, to those who are sorry for being un-generous this past week, is eternal fire the only prediction? Is unimaginable punishment unavoidable? Indeed, there is still hope, in the opportunity for Repentance, uncomfortable as that may be to contemplate. For now, at the vortex of Great Lent, there is still time now, time for personal restoration. Pascha will come, with or without your Repentance, but this may be the very year when you take courage and open your heart to the deep saving Repentance of the love of Jesus Christ. And the Lord, the Son of the Living God, is there to receive you. Amen.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • VK McCarty

    VK McCarty

    Anglican Theologian and Lecturer at General Theological Seminary

    V.K. McCarty is an Anglican theologian who leads retreats, lectures at General Theological Seminary, and contributes to the Institute for Studies in Eastern Christianity. She is the former Acquisitions Librarian at General Theological Seminary from which she graduated. She is the author of From Thei...

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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