Of all the Sundays of preparation for Great Lent, Meatfare Sunday is the most confusing.
The message of the Publican and the Pharisee is quite clear and very practical. The image of repentance in the story of the Prodigal Son is very vivid and beautiful. The need to ask for forgiveness before beginning the fasting period is obvious. But why the gospel of the Last Judgment on Meatfare Sunday? One would think there would at least be mention of fasting in that gospel reading. What’s more, the Epistle reading at liturgy begins: “…food commends us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.…”.
Nonetheless, I think there is a point and direct connection with fasting. The fast was a little different in the life of Christians in the early church than today. While the dietary rules were the same, stress wasn’t put so much on what you eat but rather how much you eat. According to the instruction of the Church Fathers we are called to eat less and to use the money we’ve saved to feed the poor.
In this light the Gospel of the Last Judgment of Christ calling us to feed the poor, give drink to the thirsty, and so on, makes perfect sense to be read exactly here before we start the Fast.
This is what Great Lent is about. Will it be about that or not eating certain foods is another story and for another post.