A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”
At the beginning of this month, on All Saints Day, I asked everyone if they want to go to Heaven when their time on earth was done. Because, of course, a saint is simply someone who lived a life worthy of Heaven. Luckily, everyone raised their hands. After all, Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. Although we all want to get to Heaven, we probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about what it takes to get there. What does a life worthy of Heaven look like? Does it simply mean being a baptized Catholic, is that enough? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation? Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily or fulfilled certain devotional practices? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?
Well, on this last day of our Church year, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage gives us the answer to this question. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven and who will not. He gives us this image of a King separating people into two categories – sheep and goats. And guess what we want to be? We want to be sheep! The sheep are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.
Here is the criteria for Heaven Jesus gives us: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is through the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.
The question for us today is this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to have hearts led by compassion, to see everyone as a brother or sister, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. Or do we have categories in our hearts where we have decided that some people are unworthy of our love and concern – like the immigrant or the refugee, the gay or lesbian person, the homeless or the drug addict, just to name a few groups that are often the recipients of something other than our compassion.
Jesus calls us to love without restriction, and today we live in a society that encourages us to fear those who are different from us, to exclude those on the margins, to respond with vengeance instead of seeking the ways of peace together. This leads us every day to be more divided, and we see the scourge of racism and prejudice coming more into the forefront.
Pope Francis said last year, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. None of this makes us enemies. Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy.”
It isn’t easy to love the way Christ loves. It calls us to take risks, it invites us to be vulnerable as we reach out to those in our world. But, it also makes all the difference. It calls us to live a life worthy of Heaven. The more we allow Christ to transform us, the more He changes the direction of our love – away from ourselves and always towards others.
St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood today, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go out from this place and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy or unworthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so loved by us. As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.
So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here. Let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let God fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let Jesus transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.
Little David was right, you be Jesus, and you, and you, and you – and it will bring us all the way to Heaven.
May the Lord give you peace.