Now, my gut response, which is a wrong answer, would be to say, ‘Because I love You.’ That’s good but not enough, because my love for God isn’t enough to earn heaven. On account of my sins, I know I deserve hell, and the love I’ve done has never been enough to compensate for this.
Did any of us answer something similar? ‘Because I was a good person, I did good, I was nice’? One constant lesson throughout the Bible is that we’re sinners who don’t deserve heaven.
So, when we die, we should say, ‘Please let me into heaven because Jesus died and rose for me.’ Jesus died to forgive our sins, and rose to give us eternal life. Notice this answer emphasizes what God does rather than what we’ve done. Did anyone give this answer or something like it? Praise God!
What this exercise tells me is that I haven’t repeated this essential teaching enough.
Jesus today gave us what’s called the Parable of the Vineyard, and we’re going to focus on the lesson that salvation isn’t earned but freely offered: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner [God] who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard [This is either the Jewish people who received the call thousands of years ago, or people who have been close to God all their life, since childhood]. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went” (Mt 20:1-4). He then invites more labourers at 12, 3, and 5 p.m., and these either represent non-Jewish people like all of us, or people who come to Jesus as teenagers, adults, or even on our deathbeds.
“When evening came, the owner… said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers and give them their pay…’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage [What is the daily wage? Eternal life, heaven, salvation]. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’” (8-12). This is a great objection: Is it fair that people who commit many sins get the same gift as someone who was faithful to God? No.
However, the lesson is that God is generous: He loves us all; He offers eternal life even at our death. God says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (20:15).
The early workers think it’s a burden to serve the owner. In the same way, some people think we’re restricted by God’s commandments, that we have to go to Mass every Sunday, that we can’t have sex whenever we want, etc. Wrong! Following God’s commandments is not burdensome; it’s hard but life-giving, whereas selfishness always causes more pain than good.
Some of us know the famous 19th century playwright Oscar Wilde, who has had a strong influence on modern society and done terrible damage to sexual morality (Carl Trueman, Strange New World, 65). Nevertheless, an excellent article says this: “Oscar Wilde is widely celebrated as an artist persecuted for his homosexuality, a sort of protomartyr for the cause of gay rights. The current celebration of Wilde as gay martyr is certainly one legitimate interpretation of his life, but it oversimplifies his complexity; indeed, it ignores the major movement of his life, a life that may also be seen as a long and difficult conversion to the Roman Catholic Church”. Wilde was a brilliant man and lived a hedonistic lifestyle, but was also very sensitive and had a lifelong fascination with Catholicism: He would visit churches, and even met the pope. During his last days he asked a friend to call a priest. The priest recorded: “He made brave efforts to speak, and would even continue for a time trying to talk, though he could not utter articulate words. Indeed, I was fully satisfied that he understood me when told that I was about to receive him into the Catholic Church and give him the Last Sacraments. From the signs he gave, as well as from his attempted words, I was satisfied as to his full consent. And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me”. That’s beautiful: a heart always looking for God, even through so many mistakes, can find Him at the last moment! And God was looking for him. It’s not fair; it’s not fair that anyone would go to heaven.
Truly, it doesn’t pay off to live a hedonistic lifestyle and then come to God late. A 2018 film called The Happy Prince shows all the suffering Wilde caused himself: he loved his family but, through his own fault, lost his wife and two children; he even kept on hurting his male lovers.
But, praise God, he came to understand that heaven can’t be earned: Two years before he died, he wrote:
“Ah! happy day they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?”
He gets it! We can’t cleanse ourselves of sin! It’s only by letting Christ in. Four years ago, we said that the way we receive God’s offer is by: 1) Repenting of our sins; 2) Having faith in Jesus; 3) Being baptized or going to Confession.
Last point on the question of fairness. God is both perfectly just and merciful. He wants everyone to be with Him in heaven, which is mercy, but, as we’ve said many times, there are different levels of happiness in heaven, which is justice. Everyone in heaven is perfectly happy, meaning they’re receiving as much happiness as they can and are completely satisfied. Yet, some are capable of greater happiness than others. Our capacity for happiness in heaven depends on our capacity for love on earth. Whenever we grow in love, we increase our capacity for joy, so, some people in heaven have the capacity of a cup, and will be full; others have a capacity the size of a bathtub, swimming pool, etc. Everyone’s full, but some can receive more than others.
Think about it like this: Cooks usually enjoy food more than others, because they’ve developed an appreciation for cuisine. For me, I just eat food and am thankful for it. But cooks derive more pleasure from the same food than I do. And people who have experienced starvation are more grateful for food than we are. Their capacity to appreciate the gift is greater than ours.
Because this lesson is so important, we’re going to review on February 18, 2024. Why should God let us into heaven? Because Jesus died and rose for us. We receive this gift when we repent, have faith, and receive the Sacraments.