Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on September 30, 2017 at 6:00pm and October 1, 2017 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
Bob and Earl were two of the biggest baseball fans ever. They had season tickets together for fifty years and they spent most of the day discussing baseball, even in winter. They even agreed that whoever died first would somehow come back and let the other know if there was baseball in heaven. One night after a ball game, Bob died peacefully in his sleep. A few nights later Earl was awakened to the sound of Bob’s voice calling out to him from the beyond. Earl had to know right away and so he quickly asked Bob, “Is there baseball in heaven?”
“I have some good news and some bad news,” Bob replied.
“I’ll take the good news first, I guess,” said Earl.
“The good news is that there is baseball in heaven and it is incredible,” Bob replied. “Not a bad seat in the house. The food is the best you’ve ever tasted. All the players are hall of famers and your favorite player Roberto Clemente is the starting right fielder for the National League.”
“That sounds amazing!” said Earl. “In ten or twenty years we’ll enjoy the ball game together again.”
“That brings us to the bad news,” Bob said. “At tomorrow night’s game you will be throwing out the first pitch.”
As far as our own journey to heaven there is also some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we are probably going to make it to heaven. Our God is a god of infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness after all, and in today’s gospel Jesus tells the chief priests and elders that tax collectors and prostitutes are getting into the kingdom of God. At the time of Jesus tax collectors and prostitutes were considered terrible sinners and the worst members of society. If they are getting into heaven, we most certainly are as well, right? We are good people. We go to Mass each week. We do our part to give our time, talent, and treasure to our Lord and his Church. We can’t lose! It’s guaranteed! We’re going to heaven!
But Jesus issues us and our pride a warning in today’s gospel. Jesus was talking to the chief priests and the elders. These were the chosen people of God. They were the good people in society. They were always in the temple. They gave their time, talent, and treasure to God. They were the ones guaranteed to go to heaven. Yet Jesus said to them, “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” The reason that Jesus gives them for this is because they were not following “in the way of righteousness.” The Greek word that is translated as righteousness two different things in English, to treat people rightly and to treat people justly.
Which brings us to the controversies about the national anthem, teams visiting or not visiting the White House, and everything else that was all over social media this week. I read so many passionate posts filled with anger, hate, and bitterness. “I am a good person who does not hate anyone and respects other people’s opinions and ideas…” and then the rest of the content of the post disproves this statement. “This person or group is wrong and not good for anything and I am right and good.” Often cursing is used for emphasis and sometimes a video inserted of something being lit on fire. That’s not righteousness. That’s self-righteousness. I know someone who works in the ticket department for the Pittsburgh Penguins and they spent the week answering calls from people who are upset that the team is going to the White House. “Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are great for winning all the Stanley Cups and what they have done for the city, but they are horrible for supporting the president.” The best response, “So I am confused. Are you ordering tickets or cancelling your existing order?”
As I said before, the good news is that we might be going to heaven. The bad news is that we might be going to heaven. The reason I say that is that tax collectors, prostitutes, Republicans, Democrats, Protestants, the person standing for the anthem and the one who kneels, that sports team, the person that cut you off in traffic, the person at work you don’t get along with, your former spouse, and a whole bunch of other people we think have no chance or don’t believe should have a chance will be in heaven. Maybe even Hugh Hefner. OK, maybe not Hugh Hefner. But in reality we don’t know or decide. Our God of infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness, he knows and he decides.
The point is that unless we are righteous people of love, mercy, and forgiveness, heaven is going to be a difficult place for us to be, because heaven is a place a complete peace, love, and joy. We have to love everybody there. There is no crying in baseball or heaven. For some of those who were posting on social media this past week that might seem like hell. We believe that if we make it to heaven we are going to be greeted by our friends and family, but what if those we disliked or hated the most are the first to greet us there? What if the test on whether we get in or not is based on how we react to these people greeting us instead of our loved ones? My fear is that Bob Nutting owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates greets me and I have to lovingly embrace him and mean it. If that is the case, I don’t get in. I am joking somewhat, of course, but in truth I am not a person of complete love, mercy, and forgiveness toward all people. Bob Nutting is just one example. None of us completely love everyone as we should.
To be honest, we are unprepared for heaven. We are sinners. We can be the son in today’s gospel who says the right thing, but ends up doing the wrong thing. We can say we are a Christian, but then do some things that make us not look like one. We can be self-righteous. We are not always right and just every moment of every day, let alone for all of eternity.
We need Jesus. He is missing from so much of our world. We do not have an infinite supply of love, mercy, and forgiveness to give to others. Our love, mercy, and forgiveness are limited, sometimes we don’t even have enough to love ourselves and our friends and families, let alone strangers. But if we fill ourselves with the infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness of God we have plenty of each of them to share with others.
We cannot live righteously on our own. We need Jesus. We cannot prepare for heaven or get to heaven on our own. We need Jesus. The one banner and flag that will unite everyone is the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus.
There is one way to heaven and that is Jesus who, as our second reading reminds us, “Every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Jesus leads us to righteousness and heaven.
Rejoice and be glad!