Those who have read the article, The River of Fire, encounter in the text a rather interesting idea: if we embrace the life of God in this life, then, in the next life, we will naturally embrace what we have already experienced. If we reject His presence in this life, then it will be our tendency to reject it in the next.

 This is an interesting idea, especially when we consider the idea of a Last Judgment.  In the west, we tend to think of judgment like a scene from a courtroom drama. This is a bit ridiculous because who among us would stand before God and pretend to be innocent about anything? If judgment is like a court, then as soon as the judge would ask how I plead, the answer could only be “guilty.”

 Yet, is this really how it’s done? Does God really need to consider evidence for and against a defendant? Does He need a prosecutor, a defense, witnesses and a jury?

 The Blessed Augustine said, “Let us not resist the first coming so that we will not dread the second.”  The first coming-does that mean the Incarnation? No, Augustine means that Christ is coming to us right now in the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and the lost. We can experience the presence of God at Church, and respond. We can experience the presence of God in prayer, and respond. We can experience the presence of God in the shining eyes and loving heart of a friend or loved one. We can experience the presence of God in a glorious sunset or in the quiet stillness of the forest.  Yet, the Shepherd says that none of these will determine whether we stand on His right or on His left! Apparently, the measure of judgment will not be how well I kept the fasting rules, but how much compassion I had in my heart.

Is this a fair way to judge? Well, let’s go back to the idea of the article, The River of Fire. Christ said that he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. He sought the lost and opened the eyes of the blind. He sealed his identity as a servant by dying on the Cross for all of us. Well, if he was that way in his earthly life, why does it surprise us that He is still this way today, and that he comes to us in the person of those who are in need? 

 The goats are shocked and cry out, “When Lord did you come to us?” They had not known him in his first coming to them in the guise of the poor, the hungry, the naked, and the thirsty. The Lord’s word to depart is a simple recognition that it is impossible to have fellowship with someone that you previously rejected. They did not know him, and though they now see plainly that he is the Lord, they do not really know him. He who sits on the throne of judgment had said, “Forgive and you will be forgive, show mercy, and mercy will be shown to you.”  Mercy is the essence of the Shepherd. The merciful will be most comfortable in his presence. The Merciless just won’t know him.  The scripture says that even at his appearance they will flee from Him.

 It isn’t up to us to choose whom we are to help, or not help. If the Lord is truly our Shepherd, then each day He will come to us as He chooses. We will find Him in the troubled teenager and in the lonely widow. We will find him in the poor man on the street or in a broken-hearted spouse. We find him in the lost that have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. He comes to us in neighbors and even in our enemies.

 Christ did not come into the world to condemn it. St. Paul said that for those who are in Christ, there is not condemnation. It seems to me that judgment is a matter of how I condemn myself, because I choose to reject the Lord when he comes to me. And should I continue to reject him, his word to me will be true: “Depart, because you don’t know who I am, and I don’t know you.

 May all of us embrace Christ in His first coming so that we will embrace Him in his last coming.


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