Determining Our Rank in Heaven
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2017
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be considered least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (from Matthew 5:17-37)
This Sunday Jesus continues to teach us what is pleasing to God and what is not, and most of this deals with how I treat my neighbor. We should be intensely interested whenever Jesus reveals secrets about the world to come, since we will all shortly find ourselves living there! And one of the most startling facts of all that Christ taught is that we will have different ranks in heaven, and that our choices now are determining this eternal rank. We will all be happy, but we will not all be equal. From the Scriptures we know that the angels also have ranks (“choirs”) so it is logical that this is God’s will for us as well. Will I develop to my full potential as God created me? All of this is being determined right now by each decision I make.
The people who will rank highest will be those who both obey what the Lord asks and teach others to do so. Those who will rank least will be those whose lives are habitually disobedient to God and teach others to do so. We would be very mistaken if we think this only applies to professional educators, priests and nuns. All of us are teachers of others by the examples we give and the lives we live. If we habitually offer a bad example, we will be held accountable for how we have led others astray and the effect we have had on their lives. Likewise, many others habitually give good example, teaching others without ever opening their mouths, for example by humility, by words, by kindness, by obedience to God in many things.
So often, we don’t realize the effect our words and actions are having on others, especially in small ways. For example, a person who remains conscientious at work even when others are goofing off both obeys God and subtly teaches others. On the other hand, habitually leaving Mass early (without a good reason), is not pleasing to God and teaches others to do the same thing, and the Lord will hold us accountable for being a bad example.
If I am a mean, aggressive driver, I am modeling bad behavior to others. If I am a gossip, I am encouraging others to sin as well. If I talk so loudly in church that others cannot pray, I am encouraging this behavior among those around me. If on the other hand I am in the habit of doing small (often unnoticed!) kindnesses for others, many will learn from my good example and may even begin to imitate what I am doing. Often simply a kind word or a willing ear are our best actions and our most teachable moments. What we will find on the last day of our lives is that it is often the smallest ways we have obeyed God and unconsciously taught others that will matter the most for our own eternal future.