Author: Fr George Dimopoulos
Source: Orthodox Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year – Volume I
Publisher: Christian Orthodox Editions
“When the Son of Man shall come” (Matthew 21:31-46)
Dear brethren, today’s gospel reading tells us about the Second Coming of Jesus. When Christ came the first time, He came as a very humble infant to the stable of Bethlehem. The second time He will come in His glory and in His dignity. The first time He came, many people did not notice His arrival and instead of giving Him a throne to sit on they put Him on the cross. Next time He will come sitting on the throne of His glory to judge the living and the dead. Upon His first arrival angels escorted His entrance into the world. Upon His second coming angels will accompany Him again, “And all the angels with Him”.
St Paul more vividly describes the picture of His Second Coming, “For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with the cry of command, with the angels’ call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” – (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Why will He be escorted by the angels? St John Chrysostom answers: “Because the angels brought to men the messages and commandments of God which concern their salvation”.
In other words, the angels will be present as witnesses to the great court. What will follow thereafter? The resurrection of the dead and the gathering of all peoples of the world, everyone since Adam and Eve. “Before Him will be gathered all the nations”.
The resurrection of the dead is a universal hope of all people. Every liturgy we hear, “I wait for the resurrection of the dead” when confessing our faith. The Prophet Isaiah sees with his prophetical eyes the resurrection of the dead and with hopeful voice he cries out, “The dead shall rise and they that are in the tombs shall be raised” – (Isaiah 26:19). St Paul when he visited Athens preached the truth of the resurrection to the Epicurian philosophers who were mostly materialists and atheists, “because He had appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He had ordained; whereof He had given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” – (Acts 17:31).
Socrates, the philosopher, during the last moments of his earthly life in prison, discussed with his disciples the soul and the life that will continue beyond the grave. The discourse with Phaido is a metaphysical aspect of the other life. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
The Prophet Ezekiel received an order from God to preach to the dry human bones, “Ye dry bones hear the word of the Lord”. After the sermon the bones began to move and join each other. “So I prophesised as the Lord commandeth me: And it came to pass while I was prophesising that, behold, there was a shaking and the bones approached each other one to his joint” (Please read the whole 37th chapter).
What will follow the resurrection? The separation of the sheep from the goats. Palestine’s sheep were usually white, and the goats usually black. Christ spoke to the people in the language and mentality they were able to grasp easily. The sheep, in their goodness, lack of slyness, gentle disposition, and their unprotesting manner in giving their milk and wool characterise the first group. The goats, because of their undomesticated, ungentle and destructive ways characterise the second group. One of the Church Fathers said, “Goats do not walk straight paths but deviate and walk precipitous ways”.
The law and basis on which the separation will be based is love – not knowledge, education, science, wealth nor gains – but the love of man to his fellowmen. The first group, the sheep, will hear, “I was hungry and you gave me food”, and the second group, the goats, will hear, “I was hungry and you gave me no food…and gave me no drink…did not clothe me…did not visit me”. Blessed are the first who were full of love, and cursed are the second who did not have any trace of love but lived only for themselves. The first inherit and the second are disinherited from the paternal property. Whatsoever the first and the second sowed, they will reap; the righteous will inherit as children of the heavenly Father, the natural inheritance.
Christ does not demand great and difficult things of us expect love and understanding to the needs of others such as extending a piece of bread, glass of water (considered very important in Palestine due to lack of water), clothing for the naked, visiting the sick and a good word to those jailed. Love as “giving” and as “offering” has no limits either to the higher or lower classes. The former gives of his excess wealth and the latter offers of his inadequate funds. Those who have nothing to give or offer can extend a glass of cold water and offer the sick companionship. Sometimes it happens that this kind of offering is the worthiest, because the offering is like the “two mites” of the widow. “Verily, verily I say unto you that this poor widow hath cast more in than all which have cast into the treasury” (Mark 12: 42-43).
The first group protest saying, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink?” The latter also protest saying, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned and did not minister to Thee? Prophet Isaiah answers this question for us, “For my counsels are not as your counsels, nor are my ways your ways saith the Lord, but as the heaven is distant from the earth, so are my ways distant from your ways, and my thoughts from your thoughts” – (Isaiah 55: 8-9).
Dear Brethren, Christ in today’s lesson solves the problem and gives us an answer that are His counsels and His ways, what we should show our neighbours and any man who is in need and needs our help. Our brother is also the brother of the Lord. How different would the present world be if we Christians observed and practiced things as described in today’s gospel.
Maybe the welfare and other institutions for the poor people would be unnecessary. They are in reality, an embarrassment to Christian society. There would be no need for compulsory tax laws to support welfare projects if each Christian would be a treasury for his brother. Justification is needless. We all have some ways and means to help our brothers. If we do not have any material means, at least we have a glass of cold water to extend, a good word to the man who needs it, and be good company to the sick. The Lord does not demand anything which is beyond our powers and means.