Having passed the preparatory Sundays before the Great Fast, we see on the Sunday of the Last Judgment the fruits of what the Church has been preparing us for since the Sunday of Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus? Repentance. Publican and Pharisee? Repentance. Prodigal Son? Repentance.
But on this day, the Church gives us a concrete warning from the very lips of our Savior. The warning is, “The time will come when repentance is no longer available. Therefore do it today, while there is still time.”
Our Lord’s familiarity with us as fickle people is evident in the words He crafts for us to absorb today. And His representation of human nature is equally evident.
We owe it to ourselves to look at the imagery the Lord gives us within this Chapter 25 of the Gospel of St. Matthew. He starts with the parable of the ten virgins. Fully half of them were clueless, while the others were shrewd. The shrewd ones recognized that they were there to serve the Bridegroom, not He to serve them. And so they came prepared. “I don’t know when He’ll arrive, but when He does, I’ll assure that I’m ready,” and so they came with oil for their lamps to spare.
The foolish ones were only concerned about themselves. “I’ll go to the wedding, He’ll come, and we’ll celebrate the wedding feast! Let’s party!” For this, they are separated from the Bridegroom’s joy.
The wise virgins, as they denied the foolish some of their oil, were not unloving of the foolish. But serving the foolish ones was not why they were there. They were present to serve the Bridegroom! “We must serve our purpose, and if we help you, our goal is in jeopardy. Go and get for yourselves!”
The parable of the distribution of the talents is a similar tale. Those who were given more knew that they would have more required of them. And so they labored—not so that they could give back to their Master His original gifts, keeping any increase for themselves. No, their hearts were aligned toward pleasing their Master. The wicked servant who hid his talent had no concern over improving his Master’s lot, a perspective which is itself self-serving. And for it, he is condemned.
Listen to the words our Lord uses then at the Last Judgment. He will separate sheep from goats. Those who find favor will do so because they have served “the least of His brethren.” Those who will be accursed will be so because they ignored these same people.
But listen to the words of “human nature” between the sheep and the goats! Those accounted as sheep are astonished. “When did we do these things to help You, Lord? We don’t remember them….” Those accounted accursed as goats are astonished as well. “When did we deny You these things, Lord? We don’t remember finding You in need…”
The sheep, in always doing good, can’t remember doing good to Christ. The goats, in always serving self, can’t remember “being asked” to help Christ. “Nobody told me I should look for You in other people….”
The fruits of our repentance are that which produces in us the desire to always serve others, to always do good. Repentance defocuses us on self, re-focuses us on living as Christ showed us, being a servant to all. God, the Creator of all things, came and put on my flesh to come and serve me. Inside of that phenomenal recognition, if there is not a reflexive response to take up that Cross and follow where He has already led, then we’re doomed to be goats. Today’s Gospel is a reminder and a warning. It reminds us that there is still time to become a sheep. It warns us that the time grows short before, if we do not choose to repent, we’ll be doomed to goat-hood.