The text: Matthew 25: 31-46
The lesson: love, Christian love
It is difficult, at face value, to read any of the parables or Christ's warnings of the end times and come away from them with the same hope and joy that one would hear from John 3. But, love is at the very heart of the parable which forms the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Triodion. After this Sunday, no more animal flesh is to be consumed (for those who follow the fast strictly) until Pascha morning. So how is that a parable talking about our Lord's return and the fear that should ensue from it also be a parable of Christian love? The key is in the second half of the parable. Fr. Alexander Schmemann explains it best:
The parable of the Last Judgement is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for "humanity," yet each one of us have received the gift and grace of Christ's love. We know that all men ultimately need this personal love--the recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole creation is reflected in a unique way. We also know that men are in prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry, because that personal love has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ's love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall be judged. For "inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me..."--Great Lent, p. 26
If I can be so bold to add to Fr. Alexander's words, I would also say that the fear that one may take away from the first part of this parable is in no way incompatible with the love present in the second part. As we come forward to receive our Lord's Holy Body and Blood in the Mysteries, the priest says, "With fear and love, come forth." According to Proverbs, fear is the beginning of wisdom. And if we are wise, we are also loving. Fear and love are two sides of the same coin. They are not opposites, but complement each other. I would suggest that we fear not so much because punishment may ensue for stepping out of line, but we fear because love is made perfect by it. Our Lord feared that His creation may perish so in His love for man, He gave His Son to save it. That's how I see it anyway. I'll leave it at that.