HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B
THEME: THE MEGA COMMANDMENTS!
BY: Ben Agbo (Rev Fr)
*Deut 6 : 2 – 6, Heb 7 : 23 – 28, Mk 12 : 28 – 34.
Certain questions linger on my mind as we approach the celebration of the Feast of All Saints and All Souls in a few days time. And like the Scribe of today’s gospel pericope, I want to ask a number of questions:
(i) Does heaven have a pass mark/ cut off mark?
(ii) What is the borderline between heaven/ purgatory/ hell?
(iii) Are there compulsory virtues/ beatitudes without which no one can see God? What are these mega commandments?
I am already trembling at the delicacy of the topic I am about to damble into and so I am asking for the grace not to fall into heresies since they are mostly dogmatic matters.
B. THE BORDERLINE OF GRACE VS LAW
The Old Testament laws came with their conditions, blessings and curses, Deut 5, 6 & 28. The righteous men of the old testament times like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Enoch, David, etc tried their best to keep the laws but none was without faults.
None was righteous enough to enter heaven until the death of Christ, when he descended into the dust of the earth (limbo) and carried the souls of the dead righteous into heaven, Matt 27 : 51 – 54. The Book of Revelation speaks analogously about the scroll of judgment of the law in the Old testament dispensation; none was found worthy to open the scroll and break its seals in heaven or earth or under the earth except the Lion of the tribe of Judah – Jesus Christ, because he was sacrificed and with his blood he bought people for God from every race, language, people and nation and made them a line of kings and priests for God, Rev 5 : 1 – 10.
So, I think the answer to the first question above is that heaven’s merit mark is 100% and nobody can attain it without the grace of God. Only Jesus qualifies us by his blood. I think what Jesus did, if I can express it in imperfect human language, was to reduce the Pass mark/ Cut off mark for entering the Kingdom of heaven to something like 50%. And what do I mean by this? Theologians have explained that as the curtain veil of the temple was torn into two when Jesus expired, Matt 27 : 51 – 54, so does the whole spiritual forces of heaven and hell tear into two as Jesus’ blood pleaded for a middle position between saints and sinners in the temple (Church). As he descended into hell taking away a number of people held captive, so does his mercy overflow so that those who die in venial sin will have some hope of pardon, Lk 12 : 46 – 47, I Jn 5 : 16. Thus, there will be no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, leaning fully and perfectly on his mercy and grace, Rom 8 : 1 – 3, and struggling in fear and trembling to work out their salvation, Phil 2 : 13. These people are characterized by the tripartite privileges of redemption, repentance and regeneration.
C. THE BORDERLINE BETWEEN HEAVEN, PURGATORY AND HELL
Having spoken about the impossibility of merit, we can now talk about the dynamics of salvation; the degree of cooperation with the Grace of God, the Word of God and the Sacraments of the Church. Surely, heaven cannot be accessed by everybody, even though Christ made us understand through the Parable of the Wedding Feast, Matt 22 : 1 – 14 that the invitation is for everybody but not all are chosen because there is a wedding garment of purity and the sacraments of purification has been set up by Christ Jesus himself, 2 Cor 5 : 18.
And so, what is this borderline that separates those who will go to heaven and those who will go to hell? I think the answer is simple and scriptural : It is called ‘Mortal Sin’ – All sins are bad but not all can lead us to damnation, 1 Jn 5 : 16 – 17. And this is where divine justice must prove itself impeccable. Only God can determine what is mortal or venial for each individual because he alone has the parameters of judgment; he alone can evaluate the magnitude of our sins, the degree of our knowledge and freedom, the circumstances prevailing for or against our will and the efforts we made/ make towards perfect contrition and repentance. When this borderline is determined and a Christian soul is found justified although imperfect, we now begin to talk about a purgative stage, 1 Cor 3 :13 – 15.
D. THE MEGA COMMANDMENTS/ BEATITUDES
The compulsory virtues/ beatitudes have been outlined by Jesus clearly in the scriptures on the great Sermon on the Mountain – which is our gospel reading for every All Saints day. It is a MUST READ for all Christians :
(i) Christians must be prayerful (poor in spirit), Lk 18 : 1.
(ii) Christians must be gentle and humble of heart, Matt 11 : 29.
(iii) Christians must be mournful onto the Lord like the friends of Jesus, Jn 11 : 1 – 41.
(iv) Christians must be righteous, exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees, Matt 5 : 20.
(v) Christians must be merciful, Matt 18 : 23 – 35 – Parable of the unforgiving debtor.
(vi) Christians must be pure, 1 Cor 6 : 18 and be purified, 1 Cor 11 : 29.
(vii) Christians must be peacemakers and not quarrelsome, Matt 5 : 22 – 25.
(viii) Christians must be courageous to the point of martyrdom, Matt 10 : 28 – Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, Matt 10 : 33 – Anyone who disowns me in the presence of human beings (sycophancy) I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven. The above mentioned are serious virtues (I call them ‘mega virtues’) which the lack of them can disqualify us from heaven.
The Scribe of today’s gospel asked about the mega commandments and Jesus was quick to present just two; Love of God and Love of neighbour. But we know these commandments are not just as simple as they look because the love of God has been broken down to be well expressed in the keeping of the first 3 commandments against idolatry, sacriledge and neglect of the sabbath day. The love of neighbour has been well expressed in the keeping of the last 7 commandments against dishonouring of parents/ father figures, murder of all kinds, immorality of all kinds, theft/ cheating of all kinds, slander of all kinds, envy and covetousness. The defaulting of any of these commandments still puts us down in mortal sin depending on the degree of guilt which like we said before, only God himself is in the best position to determine.
We pray for the grace to remain fervent in prayer and faithful to the Word of God. We pray for agape love – the type of love that takes us to heaven. According to Mother Theresa of Calcutta, ‘Love is heaven and heaven is love’. She goes on to recommend to all Christians, ‘Cook as if Jesus will eat it ; sell as if Jesus is the buyer ; teach as if Jesus is sitting before you as your student ; nurse as if Jesus is sick…Let Christ in you be the hope of glory’, Col 1 : 27.
We are entering a special month that we pray for sainthood and for our departed colleagues. It is a month of special sobriety and we must put in our best to love God and our neighbour and to remain prepared for the last days.
Happy Sunday dear friends!