The Kingdom of Heaven

The Kingdom of Heaven

In this beautiful homily for 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly helps us understand what Jesus is saying when he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Readings for Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

  • First Reading: Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 31:2-3, 3-4, 17, 25
  • Second Reading: Romans 3:21-25, 28
  • Gospel: Matthew 7:21-27



Today’s readings are a little bit complex and the reason is because we’ve come to the very end of the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are you, the poor, and all of that, is way down the road now, and we come to sort of an area where a lot of last-minute things are being put in by the author, Matthew, so that you might be able to understand what he left out so far in the reading of the scriptures of the Sermon on the Mount.

We begin with the first reading. The first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a book that was written or at least assigned to the writing of Moses after the Israelites escaped from Egypt. And as they stood on the shores celebrating, Moses had said the words that are recorded in the First Reading.

I’d like to begin this reading by treating you to a little memory.

Many, many years ago, when I was ordained, about fifty-two years ago now, it was the custom to be ordained at Maryknoll but you said your first Mass with your family and friends and close people that you grew up with in the local parish in which you were.

And so that’s where I said my first Mass in a little parish in Brooklyn, New York. And I was late. I was late for, not the Mass, but for the celebration after the Mass which was in a little place right next door.

And as I was running up there, being late, they had forgotten me at the church. All the cars left and I came out, finally, and nobody was there, so I had to find my own way.

So I’m standing there a little bit perturbed and wondering where everybody is and, all of a sudden, Morris Kantor, Uncle Morris, comes running up. He’s just run out of the IRT subway and he’s all excited and full of smiles and I could see him running towards me.

And he runs up and he grabs me in his arms and he tosses me in the air, as he used to do when I was just a little child, because Morris Kantor was the one who supplied my father and all the workers in (inaudible), the place where they were working during the Great Depression, he supplied the clothing for all the children. And he was wonderful. For twenty-five cents, he’d give you a whole wardrobe, he had such a great heart.

Morris Kantor was an Orthodox Jew, very serious Jewish gentleman, but he had a great love for all his Catholic friends as well.

And so he was so beside himself and he put me down and he said, “You know, I’ve broken the Sabbath for you. I’ve broken the Sabbath for you.”

And I was kind of stunned, because, yes, it was a Saturday and he was not supposed to get in the subway on Saturday. That was forbidden. That was one of the rules, you see. And they were very strict, the Orthodox, on these different rules.

So he said, “But I had to come. I had to come.”

And I said, “Oh, it’s so good to see you, Uncle, because I think of all the wonderful things you’ve done for us during the years and you should be here.”

“But I can’t go into the church now. That’s against the rules, too.”

“No, of course not.”

So then what he does is, he takes me and he sits me down on the side of the place that I was going to go in, the restaurant. He sits me down on the side and he says, “And now, I’m going to bless you. I’m going to bless you with Moses’ blessing, the great blessing that God gave to Moses to bless all the people, the children of Israel. And I’m going to do it in Hebrew.”

And I felt very flattered, because this was really very exciting.

And so he began and this is the blessing. I’ll read it for you now. You’ve heard it already:

“Moses told his people

take these words of mine into your heart and soul.
Bind them on your arm as a sign,
and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.”

These of course, are the phylacteries that every male Jew over the age of fifteen wears during morning prayers when he gets up to say his prayers – little boxes. And in the boxes, there are quotations from scripture and this is the quotation that Morris Kantor read to me. He read it in Hebrew. Let’s see now.

I set before you this day a blessing and a curse:
a blessing for obeying the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I give you today;
a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, but turn aside from the way I command you today, to go after other gods, whom you do not know.

“Take these words of mine into your heart. Take them into your soul. Bind your wrists as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the face of the Lord shine upon you and be gracious to you; and may the Lord look kindly on you and give you His peace.”

And that’s the famous blessing that each Jewish boy receives at his bar mitzvah and also it is the blessing of God upon the people and the Hebrews.

Then he took off his yarmulke, the little hat they wear, and he puts it on my head and he says, “Now you go back into the church and say a prayer for poor Uncle Morris, who broke the Sabbath just to be here for your ordination.”

Why do I bother telling you all of this?

Because that blessing is over three thousand years old and every young Jewish boy that receives a bar mitzvah hears that blessing from one of the elders at the church, welcoming him into manhood and making up of him a true son of Abraham.

And why is it so necessary that we read it today?

Because that’s what Jesus is saying. That’s what Jesus is repeating to his people today — his people being you and I and his disciples.

Jesus is saying, and I will now quote from what Jesus has to say:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?
Did we not drive out demons in your name?
Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’
Then I will declare to them solemnly,
‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
 and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

The very important thing about this reading, you almost forget what it was, but it is the words where Jesus says, “Those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is God speaking. “Those who enter the kingdom of heaven, those who do the will of my Father in heaven…”

Right away, you begin to feel a little bit, well, maybe that means I need to keep all the rules and regulations and everything that has been put forth in the Old Testament.

But it’s not. Listen very carefully.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

And we all know what the will is because Jesus’ disciples said, “Give us the law. What is the whole law, the whole thing from beginning to end? Explain this law of Moses and what it means.”

And Jesus looks at his disciples and he says, “You must love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind, and you must love your neighbour as yourself.

“This is the only rule. This is the only thing that is asked of you.

“You must learn how to love. And when you learn how to love, you will be one with the Father for He has created you to love.

“You will be one with me, because I have come to teach you how to love. And you will be one with each other for, finally, you will overcome your fears of each other and, in the great loveliness of God’s power, we will mould you into a people and that people shall never perish from the earth.”

And this, of course, is the promise of Abraham, to Abraham by God. It is the promise of Jesus to his disciples.

And how do we know that this is happening and this is true and this is real?

If you will read the words of Jesus and listen to them with your heart, you will understand that you have been called into a covenant of love that nothing can take from you.

And you will be one in this covenant of love through the difficulties, the problems, all of the turmoil of the modern and ancient world, but at the same time, you will know that your people’s house is founded on love and nothing can destroy it and nothing can take away from it.

And this is what Jesus is trying to say to us today: rejoice and be glad for you are the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham that, one day, all the nations of the world will come and understand, that in God’s world, there is only love, compassion, forgiveness, faith and hope — and everything else disappears.

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