Love is a verb.

Homily 298 – 36th Sunday after Pentecost (Meatfare – the Last Judgement)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 11, 2018

Epistle:  (140) – 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2

Brothers and sisters, food does not commend us to God, for if we eat, we are not better; and if we do not eat, we are not worse! However, be careful that your freedom may never become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you who have knowledge sitting in an idol’s temple, will not this person’s conscience, if weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? And thus, through your knowledge, shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ! Therefore, if food causes my brethren to stumble, I will never ever eat meat, so that I may not cause my brethren to stumble.

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least for you I am one! You are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

Gospel:  (106) – Matthew 25:31-46

The Lord said:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father! Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world! For I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’

The King will answer them, ‘Amen, I tell you: as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will also say to those on his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink;

I was a stranger and you did not receive me; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’

Then they will answer him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?’

Then he will answer them, saying: ‘Amen, I tell you: as much as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ These ones on the left will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us in doubt about how the last judgement will go. He tells us plainly that we find our eternal salvation in our love for Him, as demonstrated by our actions toward others.

The key, though, is not in our willingness to give. The key is not our willingness to help.

The key is the recognition that every person in need is Christ.

Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, doesn’t need our help. How do you help God?

The folks on the left at the judgement were baffled. How could Christ say He was naked, or homeless, or hungry? They had seen no such thing! Indeed, they couldn’t conceive of such a thing!

The folks on the right at the judgement were also baffled. They, also, had never seen Christ in need of anything!

Jesus clarifies the confusion – when you do these things for the poor, the needy, the homeless, the sick – you do them to Jesus.

In the face of every person in want, we should see Christ. In fact, in the face of every single person we should see Christ – but we should help the Christ that is in need.

That is the way we demonstrate our love, isn’t it?

When we see someone we love who is cold, we invite them into our warmth. We see someone we love who is hungry and we give them food. We see someone we love who is ill or in prison and we visit them, keep them company.

We remind them, by our presence, that they are still members of the group that we love. Our family – our friends.

And that the circumstance does not change that fact.

The trick that Jesus tells us is that we must love everyone. Even people we don’t like. Even those we hate.

Society does a disservice to us. Society tells us that love is an emotion, that it changes from moment to moment.

But that isn’t love at all!

Love, as we know from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, never fails. Never stops.

It is not an emotion, but an action. Love is a verb. An action word.

On Wednesday, society and the Latin Church will commemorate St. Valentine. As orthodox we commemorate him on July 6.

So we will have a lot of messages going back and forth, dinners, gifts perhaps – all to express our love.

But telling someone we love them – necessary and right to do – is not the complete picture. We also have to act.

We have to give of our very selves. Give who we are to the other person.

I love you is easy to say. Even when we don’t mean it emotionally.

But I love you is more difficult to enact, especially when we don’t mean it emotionally.

And Christ tells us that it is essential for our salvation. We must love. Full stop.

When we are presented with an opportunity to criticize or to belittle or to argue – we do well to remember that such things are better left to God. Our job is to love.

When we see people begging, and immediately wonder the circumstances that led them to this place, or how the alms they are given will be used – we do well to remember that such things are better left to God. Our job is to love.

When we encounter people who belittle us, who call us names, who criticize us, and we have the desire to fight back – to defend ourselves – we do well to remember that such things are better left to God. Our job is to love.

St. Paul also has something to say about the coming of Great Lent, the season of gastronomic focus for us.

He says “for if we eat, we are not better; and if we do not eat, we are not worse! However, be careful that your freedom may never become a stumbling block to the weak.”

Because we never want to cause those we love to stumble. And we never, ever, want to encounter a person we don’t love.

So the Church ties these two things together on this Sunday of Meatfare.

And like most things in the Church, it is a bit of a paradox.

The fast isn’t about food. It is about self-denial, it is about obedience to standards that are uncomfortable for us, it is about crucifying ourselves, and taking up our cross.

In short, it is about love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

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