Choosing Heaven or Hell: It’s Up to Us
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 30, 2018
“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out! Better to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.”
Jesus uses very stark language in today’s gospel, which he repeats no less than three times for emphasis. Better to have only one foot, hand, or eye than to have two of each and go to hell! Is this hyperbole? Does Jesus really mean this?
In a sense it is easier to believe in heaven than it is to believe in hell, but Jesus talks about both of these realities quite frequently. On September 11 of this year, I watched a few videos from the World Trade Center Attacks that had never been seen before, and I realized that so many innocent people were condemned, by others, to a truly hellish death on earth, and for what purpose? We begin to live already on this earth in heaven or hell by precisely the way we use our hands, our mouths, our eyes, our actions.
In a sense, when we choose to sin deliberately against God, especially when others are habitually hurt by our actions, we are choosing a kind of hell on earth for ourselves and sometimes for others. It is almost like deliberately choosing to enter the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. What many people fail to realize is that we are all eternal beings that will live forever, and each of our choices, during the limited time we have on earth, have eternal consequences.
Jesus says plainly that if our eye causes us to sin, it is better to cut it out. This doesn’t mean to gouge our eyes out! It means watch what and who you are looking at. If I am addicted to internet or cable porn, maybe it’s time to cut out the cable TV or put restrictions on our phone. Is that really so radical if the alternative is to make choices that will lead eternally away from God?
Jesus also gives us examples of good choices as well. Whenever I have given a cup of cold water to one of Christ’s little ones, I have done this for him. Christ does not need us to do great or spectacular things for him; he simply wants us to do small acts of kindness out of love. Christ promises a reward for each of these small acts of kindness. The world would certainly be a nicer place if everyone realized they would be repaid in eternity!
The point of Jesus’ words today is that nothing in our lives is more important than getting to heaven. St. Therese of Lisieux says it well: Let us keep our eyes fixed on heaven, the one true object of our labors.