Sunday Sermon for September 30, 2018, the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Num 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
During His time on earth our Lord was not very popular among the powers that be. While that has not changed, He is becoming less popular among the common people in our day. Unfortunately, some of this includes those who claim to believe in Him and even to love Him, but they do not accept some of His teachings. Among these people are a growing number of Catholics who have bought the lie that no one goes to hell. Their rationalization for this is because God loves us and, therefore, would never allow anyone to be condemned.
Obviously, these people have not read the Scriptures very well. Today we hear from two sources about the reality of an eternal condemnation. In the Gospel Jesus speaks about the need to remove whatever in our lives might cause us to lose our salvation. He speaks about being thrown into Gehenna where “the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” St. James, in the second reading, speaks of the impending miseries awaiting the rich who have been unjust toward their employees.
I am always amazed at the way we try to make Scripture say what we want it to say. Rather than accepting the words of Jesus as the Word of God, we try to twist, water down, or flat out ignore what He said because it is not what we want to believe. We have tried to make Jesus in our own image and likeness rather than allowing ourselves to be conformed to His image and likeness. He is Truth; that truth cannot change, so our attempts to force Him into a mold of our own making does not work. The goal of our life is to be conformed to and, ultimately, transformed into Jesus. Instead, we try to transform Him into ourselves.
We do this when we suggest that hell does not exist or, if it does exist, no one goes there. Of course, if anyone does go there, it would only be a few who have done terrible things on a massive scale, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot. We do the same thing when we say that Jesus does not want us to suffer. Again, we fall into the same trap when we preach the “Gospel of Health and Wealth.” Many things are far easier to listen to than the truth, but a lie does not set us free; only the truth sets us free.
At the same time, we have to be careful about going too far by exaggerating or limiting the mercy of God. In the first case, we are extending God’s mercy far beyond what God has revealed. In the second case, we can fall into the problem of limiting God’s mercy. We do this when we suggest there is no forgiveness for certain people. While it is true that without repentance there can be no forgiveness, we must always hold out the fact that God will forgive even the worst sins and largest number of horrible sins if the person who committed them is truly repentant.
In the first reading we hear about the Spirit of God resting upon two men who were chosen, but failed to join the seventy elders at the Meeting Tent as they had been directed. Even though they did not join the others, God’s Spirit entered into them and they began prophesying in the camp. Joshua asked Moses to stop them, but Moses replied: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all.” We see the humility and charity of Moses come out when he might have been justified in condemning these men because of their disobedience.
What is our disposition when it comes to eternal life? Do we want certain people to be condemned? Do we think no one is condemned? If we are going to conform ourselves to the Lord, then we need to have the same disposition as He has: we need to desire the salvation of all. At the same time, we need to respect the free will of each person to choose whether they will accept God’s mercy and repent, or whether they will reject His mercy and die in the state of mortal sin.
This basic disposition must apply to ourselves as well. Our Lord states clearly what would happen to someone who causes a “little one” who believes in Jesus to sin. He is clear about the necessity of cutting off or plucking out whatever causes us to sin. If we can be forgiven, so can anyone else. Heaven is not a guarantee. We must repent and seek our salvation, and desire the repentance and salvation of everyone else.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.