Life Death Heaven Hell
There are some powerful teachings in today’s famous Gospel and we need to look carefully at them.
First there is a saying about the four last things and clearly they are all here. Life Death Heaven Hell.
So, we see Jesus separate everyone into being sheep or goats. To understand the difference maybe we can ask the question what group is missing among the people whom Jesus impersonates? Look carefully, it is the rich.
Why are the rich not there? We can assume that the rich and the poor are among the sheep and the goats, so why did Jesus not appear to them as the rich? The answer is simple. He is essentially saying if he was rich everyone would fall all over him to serve him. If he came as a king.
Remember the Willie Nelson song If you have the money Honey, I have the time, when you run out of money honey, I run out of time.
So what Jesus is saying is to treat the poor and powerless as if they were the rich and powerful. That person who is too poor for you to give so much as the time of day, he is calling us to treat as if he was the most powerful person on Earth. For that is whom he represents. That can be difficult.
Notice something else. Where do the goats go. Obviously, Hell. Which is reserved for the devil and all his angels. It is not reserved for the goats but they are going there why? Why did the devil rebel against God, because he refused to serve humanity which he considered lower than him. Jesus is saying that the person you consider lower than you is the one with whom he identifies. Just as Jesus died for every person on Earth whom the Devil rejects.
Now there is another thing that works here. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that what Hell is all about is not only a punishment for sin but that sin is a disturbance in the natural order. Hell is where those must go who cannot exist in the natural order and the natural order is rooted in love and charity. So Hell is for those who cannot live in love and charity.
Now you may not know that the devil is legalistic. That is the point. He knows every law and is described in the Bible as the accuser of our brothers. He is the one who stands before the Lord and describes every time that you broke the law. However, the law is the minimum standard. So if you seek to follow the law perfectly you will at best be living the minimum standard. We however have a call to live to a higher standard and that standard is love.
Let me give you an example. I know of someone who was a devout catholic and good holy and made sure she was in what she considered a state of grace before receiving communion. She expressed her dissatisfaction at her neighbor who sold her house to a black family. That is the devil’s faith. It follows rules but does not step out of the line in love.
You and I must first seek to love God above all things and we love God by loving his people all of them. It is a tremendously difficult task and we do not have the strength on our own to do it. We must draw our strength from our relationship with God in prayer. It is through prayer that we can live the commandments to love God and neighbor. Remember, we cannot love God if we are not loving his people. Just as if you were to hate the son of a parent, the parent would reject you.
There are many there who will recite every law of the Church. They will follow every rule excoriate anyone who does not. I have even read comments by such people who will use firearms to protect their property because the church says they can after all that is the rule. I do not hold high hopes for them on judgement day that they would put their property above the life of another person.
That is an element of Catholicism that some people embrace. I don’t. The value of property can never outweigh the value of a person.
Now notice something else. If we do not love and build our lives on love then the law takes over and becomes more and more restrictive at every step. Tyrants force people to live by rules where there is no love. Tyrants will knowingly or unknowingly emulate the devil believing his legalism make for a just society. No actually it makes for tyranny. The more people love the more just a society is.
So, Jesus is teaching the people to live a radical form of love that goes beyond simple rules and you will stretch yourself but you will be living more the sacrificial love Jesus calls us to live. However, if you stand by the rules and live strictly by the rules you may never understand the love to which Jesus calls us.
So as we end this liturgical year this week, it is a good time to reflect on how much we seek to love and how much we take safe haven in rules. That is not where we belong, we belong following the law to love which is always the higher standard. It is the route to Heaven.
By Marcello Venusti - http://capodimonte.spmn.remuna.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7296688