No one has to raise their hand for this question as the answer should be obvious for all of us? Who wants to go to heaven? I would assume everyone wants to go to heaven, the alternative isn’t much of an option. We all know that Jesus died for our sins, past, present, and future. So we know we are forgiven our sins as long as we are truly sorry for them. So if we are truly sorry, we know we are going to heaven. Sounds simple enough.
So what are we worried about? But if it is that simple, why did Jesus say in Matthew 19:24-26; “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’”
The point we need to bring to heart is that we cannot do it alone. We are human, we are sinners and we need to partner with God. God makes His point in the first three words of the First Reading today, “If you choose…” Whether we get to heaven or not is a personal choice, not a free pass. Even though Jesus died for us, we still have a part to play in our personal salvation story that we write throughout our lives.
God provided us a guide to salvation. We call it the Bible. Someone came up with a clever meaning to the letters of the word BIBLE expressing it as (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth). The reality is that the Bible is a guide to help us make the right choices in life that lead us to our heavenly home. God tells us in the First Reading that if we keep His commandments we will be saved. If we trust in Him we shall live. He goes on to say: “… Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” He has given us the gift of free will. It is our choices in life that will determine our eternal home.
When you heard the Gospel proclaimed today it sounded very strict. Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, you shall not kill, and whoever kills will be liable to judgement. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement…” Jesus is clarifying the commandment “to not kill” which goes beyond physically taking someone’s life. You can also cause harm to someone mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Hurtful words and actions can cause death to someone’s self-esteem. These words and actions are personal choices we make.
If we have caused harm to someone, we must repent, ask for forgiveness and if possible, we must also take action to repair the damage we caused. This “action to repair the damage” is called atonement of sin which is what Jesus is referring to in the Gospel today when he said, “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Forgiveness and atonement are two different things. If a man breaks his neighbor’s window, he can be forgiven for the action, but that doesn’t replace the window. When we say we are sorry for something, it means that we will change our behavior. Anything less is just meaningless words. If he fixes the window this is the atonement performed for breaking the window. Maybe he was practicing his golf swing in his back yard when he broke the window. So in this case he would also not do that again. This shows he truly wants to change. This is in line with what Jesus said at the end of the Gospel reading: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’”
Our life is filled with choices each and every day. Choices matter. In order for us to have the grace and strength we need to make the right choices in life, we need to receive the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation and go forth living our lives as Jesus teaches us. We must allow God to be the law of our lives. We must live by His commandments and apply them to all aspects of our lives.
The examples that Jesus gives us in the Gospel today are telling us to focus on what drives the decisions we make, to focus on our interior self, the source of our intentions. This requires serious self-examination. I am sure we all have noticed that when we start talking in a bitter way about someone we find ourselves getting even more upset. We fuel those ill feelings. We need the calming effect of God’s grace to help us quench the anger.
Did you ever hear someone say from a physical perspective that we are what we eat? If we eat healthy we will become healthy, if we eat unhealthy we become unhealthy. This mindset also applies to our character, to our spiritual state, to who we are as a human being. We become what we choose. If we consistently choose self-serving acts we become a selfish person. If we consistently choose loving acts we become a loving person.
Who do you want to be? It is your choice. Do you want to be a loving person? Then make the choice. But this requires that we work at making the choice to love each time we are faced with a choice. That of course is many times each and every day. It is a way of life. That is why the practice of living the teachings of Jesus was originally called “The Way” before it was given the name Christian.
When we live the way of Jesus we are partnering with him in making heaven on earth. Heaven is not a place as much as a state of being. We are made in the image and likeness of God, to love and be loved. If we choose to always make loving choices in our life on earth, we become loving beings and will dwell in the presence of love itself, Our Lord and God for all eternity. That is heaven. Whether we attain that or not, is up to us. It is our freewill choice. Each time we are faced with choosing a loving act or not, we know what the right answer is.