I think I put together a pretty good homily for this week. I say that because when I came down here Friday for a wedding rehearsal, I picked up a copy of this week’s bulletin and there was my homily right on the front. For example, here’s what I was going to say: “For the last few weeks, our Sunday Gospels have been parables. Some were pretty straight forward, others not so much.”
Ms. Esker, the author of this week’s bulletin cover wrote: “Sometimes Jesus’ words can seem quite vague to us; at other times he makes his point with extreme clarity. For the past three Sundays, Jesus has used parables to indict the religious leaders for their self-righteousness, and so on.
There you go. You read the bulletin and I’ll go sit down….. No, I’m kidding. I’m not going to let you off that easy. Even though Ms. Esker and I agree on the clarity thing, I think we may both be wrong. In fact, Jesus is hardly ever clear about what He means.
In Jesus’ story the man who wasn’t prepared was thrown out of the banquet, into the dark where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” OK, we get that. Heaven is a good place. Hell is a bad place. But we don’t really know what either place is like and we’re not quite sure what we have to do to be prepared.
Week before last, I went on retreat with two other deacons. One day we were talking about this very subject. What is it like in hell? Is there fire and brimstone. Scriptures do talk about a “fiery furnace”. But we all agreed that just knowing that we would be separated from God for all eternity would be more suffering than we could bear. The fact is that we just don’t know what it’s like and we all pray that we never find out first hand.
Then there’s the big question. How do we get into heaven and avoid hell? We all know what we’re supposed to do. Jesus told us to love the Lord our God and to love one another as ourselves. But we’re human and we don’t always do what we’re supposed to do.
We know that God is just and we also know He’s merciful. But how does He balance justice and mercy. Face it, for most of us, if God is truly just, we’re in serious trouble. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I deserve to go to heaven. I try to do His will, but I don’t always do it. There are a lot of people who deserve to go to heaven more than I do. So, if God is just, they should get in and I should stay out. The king in the parable didn’t show any mercy to the guy who was unprepared. Think about the last seven words of the reading. “Many are called but few are chosen.” That’s a little scary.
On the other hand, our God is kind and merciful. He’s slow to anger and quick to forgive. If God is all about mercy, then He should let everybody into heaven, even the worst of us. He made us the way we are. He knows our capacity for goodness, and for badness. If He made me the way that I am, shouldn’t He take that into account at the final judgment? If He lets everybody in, where’s the justice in that?
So what’s the answer? I wish I new. But I can’t know and you can’t either. It would be great if there were some kind of list of things that we have to do to get into heaven. There ARE the ten commandments and the beatitudes. Those are kind of lists. But there are even gray areas in the Commandments. “Thou shalt not kill” is a biggie. But even there there’s some wiggle room. You can kill someone in self-defense. You can serve your country and kill someone in a just war.
What if there was a list? What if God told us that we had to feed twenty hungry people? We might do exactly that and let number twenty-one go hungry. Or, what if we’re on our way to feed our twentieth hungry person and we get hit by a bus? Are we in or out? Surely a loving God isn’t going to keep us out on such a technicality.
God doesn’t work that way. That’s thinking like men think and not like God thinks. We’re called to a higher standard than that. God created you and me for a purpose. It’s up to us to figure out what that purpose is and the way to do that is to pray. I don’t mean the “Do this. Do that. Give me this. Give me that. Let me win the lottery.” Kind of prayer. I don’t mean telling God what you want Him to do. I mean sitting in a quiet place and asking God what you can do for Him. “God, what can I do today to make myself the person you created me to be.” Then shut up and listen. He will speak to you.
In this church we’re surrounded by statues of saints. They’re here to encourage us and to inspire us. We’re called to study them and to use them as roll models. BUT, we not supposed to copy them. For example, Saint Wenceslas was a great saint and a great king. Face it, you and I are never going to be kings or queens. Even if we were, there’s already been a Saint Wenceslas. We don’t need another one. God didn’t create any of us to be a second Wenceslas, or a second anything. He created you and me to be the best you and me we can possibly be. That’s what He wants from us.
So we study the saints. We emulate their courage, and their wisdom, and their charity, but we use those traits to improve ourselves; to be the best you and me that we can be. We won’t be kings or queens, we won’t lead crusades, hopefully we won’t be martyrs. But if it is God’s will that I be a martyr, then I pray for the strength and the faith to be like the blessed virgin who said, “let it be done to me according to your will.” If we do our best to do God’s will, then, when we stand before Jesus at the final judgment we’ll know that we’ve done the Father’s will.