The parable of the Dread Judgement is one of the most important parables - if not the most important - in the Holy Gospel. It reveals to us a simple truth: There will be a judgement and it will be inescapable. Everyone who ever lived or lives will be included. There is nowhere to hide and nothing will remain hidden.
Why does the Lord inform us about this Dread Judgement? Because He does not desire that anyone perish. He not only reveals that there will be a judgement but also on what basis everyone will be judged. He does this so that we will be prepared for that day and that hour. After all, only one thing is important. Will we be on the right among the sheep or on the left among the goats?
That it is not God’s will that anyone perish is seen in the words: Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. And again: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. It is clear that those who enter the Kingdom enter it as it was prepared for them (everyone) from the very beginning. God created man to be in communion with Him, to share in His life, to be like Him. This is God’s will from the beginning and He has never changed His purpose for creating us. When we sinned, forsook Him, and brought decay and death into the world, He did not abandon us. He did everything to restore communion between us and Him. He became a Man, the God-man, to heal us from that which ails us most: sin, death and decay. As a man He ascended the Cross to descend to Hades and destroy death, raising the dead, bestowing life on all. This is the greatest manifestation of His love for us.
It is also clear that those who depart to the everlasting fire depart to a place not prepared for them, but for the devil and his angels. Those who go there will go there not by God’s will but by their own choice.
But why would anyone choose this? This can be seen in how we shall be judged.
The Lord shall say to those on the right: I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. We shall be judged on the basis of how we loved - or failed to love.
Why does the Lord say: I hungered, I thirsted, I was a stranger, naked, sick, a prisoner - and you helped me? Because everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. Christ Himself is the perfect image of His Father, so we all bear His image with the purpose to grow into His likeness - to resemble Him. He is part of each of us. When He says: I hungered, thirsted, was a stranger, naked, sick, a prisoner, He is describing the state of His image in us. Sin has thrashed us, we are ill, deathly ill, stripped of almost all that God has given us. When He says that the sheep fed Him, He means that they fed their souls with the spiritual food: prayer, the Divine Scriptures and Holy Eucharist. When He says that the sheep gave Him to drink He is saying that their spiritual thirst was quenched by the Holy Spirit. When He says that the sheep took Him in He is saying that we returned to God our Father as did they prodigal son by repentance. When He says that the sheep clothed Him He means that they cloaked their souls with the radiance of the Divine Energies of God (grace). When He says that the sheep visited Him when He was sick He is saying that they healed their souls of sin and the passions with the divine virtues. When He says that the sheep visited Him when He was in prison He speaks of the soul being freed from the prison of death by embracing the resurrected Christ.
But the image and likeness of God are not in one person: they are in every person, thus we are to love everyone. The Lord tells us that we are recognizable as His disciple if we love one another. We are called not to only to love those who love us, but to love those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to love our enemies, for, as St. Paul says: While we were yet sinners (thus enemies of God for opposing Him, although He has never been our enemy), Christ died for us.
St. James clearly says that we cannot love God whom we do not see if we do not love our brother whom we do see. Our brother is our welfare. He is our salvation. Thus we must meet his needs as we are able.
Thus those who enter the Kingdom will do so because they love Christ, they imitate Christ, they love their own souls and those around them.
On the other hand, those who go into everlasting fire are those who neither love God, nor their own souls nor those about them. The food and drink which they give to their souls is not the food and drink of the sheep, it is the food and drink of the lusts and passions of the flesh, which never satisfies them. They remain naked being devoid grace. They remain strangers by never returning home to God. They remain sick and imprisoned as they languish in sin, for they don’t repent and thus remain unhealed from their sins and passions until they die, for, as St. Paul reminds us, the wages of sin is death.
Such as these are so self-centered that they rarely give thought to the needs of others. They are quick to judge their neighbor: the homeless, the needy, the imprisoned, often blaming them for their own predicament as a way to justify ignoring their needs. And while they may feel sorry for the sick and lonely, rarely will they visit them, as it is an inconvenience and serves to remind them of what they innately know: this is what awaits them.
In this way they isolate themselves from God, from their neighbors (how many of us know our neighbors?), sometimes even friends and family, and even themselves. Perhaps this is why some people find it necessary to “find”themselves?
It is no coincidence that our holy fathers say we go to heaven together, but to hell individually.
So we will be judged on whether we love God, our own souls and those around us - or not.
Simply put, those on the right will recognize themselves in Christ and Christ in themselves. Those on the left will not.