daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, First Week of Lent, February 19, 2018
Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18, Psalm 18, Matthew 25:31-46

Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.


"Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'" (Matthew 25:41).

This is the great last judgment scene, where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats - the good people from the bad people. The sheep enter eternal life, while the goats go into eternal punishment. The wicked "will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). To the righteous, Jesus will say, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). But to the wicked he will say, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).

Here we see that God's mercy does not overcome his justice for unrepentant sinners. To receive his mercy it is clear that you have to repent before you die and face the final judgment. Once you die, your fate is fixed. You will either enter into eternal life in "the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34), or you will go "into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).

It is a great deception to think that I am safe, because God is merciful, so I don't need to repent and amend my life, because the all-merciful God will have mercy on me even though I don't repent, and so he will never send me into "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46). Today's gospel reading clearly refutes such a position.

Many unrepentant sinners continue to live in habitual grave sin and try to convince themselves that they are safe, because God is merciful and doesn't require that we repent and amend our life. How could a merciful God ever send anyone to hell forever, they ask? And so, convinced of God's mercy, which they think doesn't require our repentance, they continue to live in a constant state of grave sin. Today's gospel reading should be a rude awakening for such self-deceived people, who in truth, according to God's scriptural revelation, are on their way to hell if they don't genuinely repent and abandon their sinful way of life before they die and meet their judge.

Repentance is the key to receiving God's merciful forgiveness. The Lord told his people that they would be driven out among the nations and scattered among the peoples because of their sins. But he tells them that when this happens and they come to their senses and repent and seek the Lord, they will find him and he will treat them with mercy:

"But from there [where they will be scattered because of their sins] you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice, for the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not fail you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers which he swore to them" (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

Their repentance is the key that will open up to them the floodgates of God's mercy. "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live" (Ezekiel 18:30-32). God punishes stubborn, unrepentant grave sinners. But he has mercy on those who genuinely repent of their sins and sincerely resolve to amend their life.

Was this not the message of John the Baptist? Wrath is coming from God on sinners, he said, so repent and act as repentant people who have abandoned their sins. Don't presume upon God's mercy and continue in your sins, deceiving yourselves. John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:7-10).

Look at Nineveh in the time of Jonah. God promised to destroy them for their sins. What saved them? Their repentance. When God saw that they repented and turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not destroy them. Their repentance saved them.

God's just judgment will come upon everyone. Those who repent and believe in Christ will be saved. Those who presume upon his mercy and do not repent will be damned. "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with his angels, and then he will reward each according to his works" (Matthew 16:27 NKJV).

Just as a farmer gathers the weeds and burns them, so will God do to unrepentant sinners at the close of the age, at the last judgment. "Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Matthew 13:40-43 NKJV).

Many are in great danger today from falsely presuming on God's mercy, despite his many warnings in Scripture that unrepentant sinners will perish if they do not repent before they die and come before the judge. "If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts" (Psalm 7:12-13 NRSV).

But someone might object at this point, "Hey, wait a minute! Isn't this works-righteousness? I thought we were justified and saved by faith, not by works." Yes, we are justified and saved by faith, not by works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9), for our faith in Christ connects us to Christ's atoning death on the cross that makes reparation for our sins, enabling God to justly forgive, acquit, and declare us righteous. But once God has done this, once he has justified us by our faith, not by our works, then we are enabled by our justification to live a new life of good works, and we are expected to do so, and these good works manifest that we really do have saving faith and really are justified. If we don't have good works, if we remain in a constant state of grave sin, this indicates that we do not really have saving faith and were not really justified, or that we have lost our justification by living in a constant state of grave sin.

So God will reward or punish us on the basis of our good works and good moral life, for they indicate that we truly have been justified and saved by faith, because of Christ's atoning death for us on the cross. When we die and come before the judge, those who are living a good life will enter into eternal life with God. Those who are caught by death as unrepentant grave sinners will go into eternal punishment. "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).

So we are justified and saved by our faith, which manifests itself in our converted good life of good works. Our faith, furthermore, contains genuine repentance. We must "repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15), as Jesus says, to be saved, and we must do this before we die and face the final judgment.

It is foolish to try to rationalize my sins away, saying to myself that due to my extenuating circumstances my grave sins are not really sinful. What is required is that we stop sinning, admit our sins, confess them, and receive sacramental absolution, because of the merits of the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, for he died vicariously, suffering our punishment on the cross for our sins for us.

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10).



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