Homily at the Divine Liturgy – Sunday of Meatfare
29th Annual Leadership 100 Conference
February 23, 2020
Saint Mark Greek Orthodox Church, Boca Raton, Florida
This week, I have been here in Florida with the members of Leadership 100 – many of whom are joining us this morning – in order to further advance the mission and the ministries of our Church.
The Apostle James tells us that “faith without deeds is dead,”[*] and I can tell all of you that Leadership 100 is about doing the deeds of the Lord, and not only declaring in word.
Today, we hear, in the most glaring terms, the same message from our Lord Jesus Christ in the reading from the Gospel. Chosen for this Sunday of Meatfare,[†] when in the tradition of the Church this is the last day that animal flesh is supposed to be eaten until the Sunday of Pascha, there is not a single word about fasting in today’s reading. That should be a clue for all of us. But there is even more.
Nowhere in today’s Gospel do we hear even one word about theory, belief, doctrine, or dogma. In this vision of the Lord’s Second Coming, ἡ Δευτέρα Παρουσία – every determination about our future and the state of our souls is based on how we have treated other human beings. Not just Christians, or Orthodox Christians – the Lord calls our attention to the everyday persons that come our way, or as the He calls them, “τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν ἐλαχίστων,” “the least of my sisters and brothers.”
And if you think that this term – ἀδελφοί – which in Greek refers to men and women in the plural, only refers to those within the Church, I ask you to think again about the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the lesson of who is our neighbor. If our Lord is truly the Son of the Father, then He is also the Brother of all those who are children of God, whether they realize their divine parentage or not.
So, what is the point of this parable, of the dividing of the sheep from the goats, of challenging our perception about redemptive actions and consequences?
I believe that we can find it in just one saying of our Lord:
Ξένος ἢμην, καὶ συνηγάγετέ με.
“I was a stranger, and you gathered me in.”
Or, because the verb, συνάγω, is also the root of the word “Synagogue:”
“I was a stranger, and you embraced me in your community.”
You see, the first hearers of this parable in the Greek would have recognized that taking someone in, is also inviting them to become part of the Συναγωγή – the community.
Now then, when we consider our own lives, the life of our community, and the way we treat others, what do we do when we encounter a stranger?
Do we welcome the stranger?
Do we embrace the stranger?
Do we incorporate the stranger into our community?
We hear a lot these days about immigrants and immigration – legal and otherwise. But the Lord is not setting a political agenda, he is demanding a human agenda!
He is calling us to a higher vocation of embracing the humanity that we share not only with every other person on this planet of 7.8 Billion people – that alone is a staggering concept. He is calling us to embrace the humanity that we share with Him!
This is the most radical idea of all! God, Who is before the ages and beyond any conception or understanding, became a human being:
Καὶ ὁ Λόγος σὰρξ ἐγέντο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν….
And the Word became flesh, and made His Tabernacle among us….[‡]
This is the very Gospel that we read at the Holy Pascha, the very goal and purpose of this Triodion period and Lent itself.
But this is our purpose, summed up by Saint Athanasios the Great in a simple sentence:
“Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπισεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν.”
“For God became a human being, so that we might become Godlike.”[§]
And if we are divine, Godlike by grace – which is theosis – should not our lives reflect how God treats others: with mercy, compassion, with a welcoming love that exceeds any judgment or criticism?
My beloved Christians:
These days of the Holy Fast, which are going to be here in the blink of an eye, are to prepare us, not just for the next world, but for this one as well.
That is why on this Meatfare Sunday – also called the Sunday of the Last Judgment, we are called to think about how we treat our fellow human beings. How we respond to their needs and their cries for help. Because how we treat them, reveals what grace and identity with Christ is inside of us. As Plato observed, like knows like. If we are like Him, we will recognize Him when He comes again. And because this life is not forever, we don’t have to wait for Him to come back to us in His Second Coming…. We will eventually go forth to meet Him.
On that day, may we all be found worthy of His Resurrection Glory, and be seated on the right hand with all who from the ages have been well-pleasing to Him.