Nm 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:39-43, 45, 47-48
Who among us are going to heaven? Who among us will go to hell? Only God knows. He is the Final Arbiter for only He can be truly fair in making judgments. And yet, the readings today would give us some ideas of who will be saved and who will be damned.
Who could possibly end up in heaven?
In the first reading, a young man asks Moses to stop two individuals from prophesying because they did not receive the “spirit” from their leader. Moses, however, reminds him that in God's community anybody is capable of doing good. Similarly in the gospel, the apostle John complains to Jesus concerning a person who ministers in the Lord’s name apart from their group. But Jesus tells the disciple not to restrict this man because no one performs a mighty deed in his name who can at the same time speak ill of him. Whoever is not against him is for him.
These readings simply teaches that all of us could do something good in the name of God. And so, all have the opportunity to enter heaven. Jesus says that anyone who gives a thirsty person a cup of water to drink in his name will receive a reward. Offering a glass of water is an ordinary act which can be done easily by any person. This is an assurance that every single act of kindness that we do to another will not be forgotten by God.
Before Vatican II, we thought that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation or, simply speaking, we believed that only Catholics can be saved. But now, Catholic teaching recognizes that even people of different faiths have a share of the truth, and that they can be saved by doing what is right and good.
Who could possibly end up in hell?
The second reading from the letter of James criticizes the rich by saying: “You withheld the wages of the workers who harvested your fields . . . You have lived in luxury and pleasure while others are dying . . . You have murdered the righteous because they could not defend themselves.” This reading is not saying that all rich people are evil and are condemned. No. The ones being held accountable here are those who enriched themselves at the expense of the poor, those who are indifferent of the sufferings of the people, and those who caused the death of the innocent ones. These people could not have a space in the kingdom of heaven.
In the gospel, Jesus also criticizes those who cause other people to sin. It would be better for these people “to be thrown into the sea with a great millstone put around his neck.” In other words, those who cause another person to sin would be better put away or dead.
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna . . . And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.” What does Jesus mean by this? Do we have to understand this passage literally? No. The gospel simply uses this imagery in order to show the seriousness of the offense of one who causes others to do evil.
So, what are the challenges for us this Sunday?
First, we have to understand that each of us are capable of doing good. We all are created in the image and likeness of God, and goodness is part of our very nature. We need to inspire, not stop, one another to manifest our heart by doing the works of Jesus.
Second, we need to trust that the little that we can do for others could go a long, long way. The good works that we do can change the face of the earth. As Jesus exhorts us: “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” In other words, through our good works, we can make the world a better and a brighter place to live in.
Third, let us be extra careful to avoid causing others pain and injury. In our desire to go higher into the ladder of success, let us make sure that nobody is hurt along the way. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and loses his life in the process?”
And finally, let us stop ourselves from leading other people to sin. We should not give false ideas or bad examples to others, especially to our children. Rather, we have to do our best to know the truth and to practice it in our lives so that our children can find some good things to emulate.
A boy's mother died. He was left with his father. He found himself too busy to give any time to him. Not surprisingly, the youngster was lonely. At his first opportunity, he got out on the streets looking for companionship. He found it soon enough, but it was the wrong kind. He drifted into alcohol and drug addiction. He died. At the judgement seat, Saint Peter asked Jesus whether he should be punished. The Master replied in the negative. But sternly He said, “But look out for that father who refused to play with his child and sent him out on the streets - and punish him.”
(The story is an adaptation of the one told by O. Henry)