Establishing Our Rank in Heaven
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 16, 2020
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 we hear part of the Sermon on the Mount, which forms the core of Jesus’ teaching. Here Jesus tells 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 a rank in heaven. Yes, we will all be happy, but we will not all be equal. From the Scriptures we know that the angels also have ranks (or “choirs”) so it is logical that we will 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, and particularly by how I treat my neighbor. This is truly of vital importance to my own future.
The people who will rank highest will be those who both obey what the Lord asks of us 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. Sometimes the little things mean the most to God. 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, if I habitually leave Mass early without a good reason, perhaps I am doing something that is not pleasing to God and teaching others to imitate this bad habit.
There are many other examples, both positive and negative. If I am a mean, aggressive driver, I am modeling bad behavior to others. If I am a gossip, I am encouraging sin. 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 the small ways we obeyed God and unconsciously taught others that will matter the most for our own future!