25 - Last Judgment, Feb 22, 2009

I Corinthians 8:8 – 9:2

Matthew 25:31 – 46

If you’ve been reading the daily assigned Scripture readings over the last two weeks, you will have noticed that during the week we’ve been reading the Gospel account of the trial, the crucifixion and the burial of Christ when the princes of the world are judging God and finally crucifying the Lord of glory. Meanwhile, the Gospel readings assigned to these pre-Lenten Sundays come to their climax this morning, in the Gospel of the Last Judgment, when God judges man. These parallel sets of readings tell us that there is a hidden realm beneath the surface of worldly events and profane consciousness of man on which man judges God and crucifies him. It is the hidden realm of the human spirit where we are being judged by God.

The Pharisee and the elder brother of the last two Sundays, and the goats of this morning’s Gospel are examples of how man judges God. They all have certain characteristics in common: self-righteousness, self-justification and indifference to the plight of their fellow man. They’re all religious, too. They all believe in God. In these Sunday morning Gospels, the bible is exposing the lie of those who say they believe in God but who show by the attitude of their heart that they do not. For, if they really believed in God, as St Paul says, they would not have crucified him, the Lord of glory. If they really believed in God, as Christ himself says, they would have followed his commandments.

Here we come to a connection between disobedience of Christ’s commandments and crucifying him. When we disobey his commandments, we align ourselves with the princes of the world who crucified him. We make ourselves God’s judge. We are implying that he is not God, and therefore we are wiser than he; so we’ll decide what’s right and wrong, what’s moral, what’s not. In the wisdom of our own opinions, we do not submit to God. We seek to make him submit to us. We may be religious, even very religious; but in our spirit we stand with the Pharisee, the elder brother and the goats, judging God and crucifying him in our spirit. But in that very act of judging God and crucifying him in our spirit, we are at once judged by God; for the very reason we are judging him and crucifying him is that we have set ourselves above him.

These readings of the Church’s pre-Lenten lectionary have as their purpose to expose the self-righteousness that hides in our spirit beneath our religiosity. The Church is saying to us rather sternly that in our spirit we are with those who daily are judging God and crucifying him. She is warning us like this so that we will not use the Lenten disciplines we are about to take up as an exercise of self-righteousness, and present our prayers and our fastings, our tithes and our offerings and our charities to God as did the Pharisee or the elder brother or the goats: to boast how religious we are. With these Scripture readings, the Church is waking us up to the confession of the fact that in our spirit, we are the Pharisee, the elder brother, one of the goats, so that we will take up the Lenten disciplines as our cross, so that our fasting and prayer may be for us the door of repentance by which we descend beneath our empty religiosity to the realm of our spirit to lay aside every excuse and to submit ourselves to the judgment of God.

The set of daily Gospel readings of the last two weeks meet up with this morning’s Gospel in the middle of the Savior’s judgment and crucifixion at the hands of the princes of the world. They meet at that point where the door of repentance is being opened to us by the Savior himself so that we can descend beneath the surface of our empty religiosity and into the hidden realm of our spirit. If you listen attentively, you will hear the Savior cry out as they are murdering him on the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Here is the great mystery of God’s judgment against us. When we judge him and crucify him in our spiritual hubris, he judges us; but the seat of his judgment is the Cross; and his judgment is his mercy. He does not judge us to condemn us, for he desires not the death of a sinner. He judges us as the Great Physician to reveal our sickness that is unto death, our failure to keep his commandments, so that we will turn from our wickedness and live. The light of his judgment that is shining into the darkness of our spirit is the light of his Cross. It is the light of his ineffable forgiveness of our sins if we will but confess our sins, if we will but submit to his judgment. It is a light that shines in the darkness to show us the way back to the Father, the God who is love.

In the experience of the Savior’s love for us, unworthy as we are because we have stupidly judged him and crucified him again and again in our spirit, we lay aside every excuse and take up the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent as our cross, and in the fear of God, with faith and love we dare to draw near the crucified and risen Savior, to become partakers of his own divine nature in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the love of God the Father and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.