We Are All Heirs Of Heaven
In his homily for Easter Sunday, Year B, Father Hanly tries to help us understand that every person that we meet is a child of God, an heir of heaven and valuable beyond our understanding.
Readings for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord, Year B
- First Reading: Acts 10:34, 37-43
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
- Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4, or First Corinthians 5:6-8
- Gospel: John 20:1-9
I remember as a child, the main event of our celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord was the jelly bean wars between me and my little sister and my older sister.
My father used to bring in a big bag of jelly beans and put them down on the floor while we were watching funny favourites.
And then we would start fighting over the jelly beans, because there’s a pecking order for jelly beans, you know. Red ones are more important than yellow ones, and yellow ones are not as good as green ones, and the best of all are the black ones, so you get three, and it goes on and on.
And before you know it, we were fighting about it, very fairly, of course, and, all of a sudden, my older sister gets impatient and she throws the jelly beans against the wall. Then we started the jelly bean war.
My father came in and he looked at us. He was such a lovely man. He didn’t say a word, ran around and picked up all the jelly beans.
By that time, we were ashamed of ourselves. My father looks at us and you could see in his eyes, we have come on this most important occasion and what was it we do? We fight over jelly beans (chuckles).
Well, a lot of people thought that was a good thing, because I’ve given this talk before and I get jelly beans every time at this time of the year. People give me jelly beans and I get all the best of the jelly beans.
The reason I begin on a lighter note, because now I’d like to go back onto an important one.
You see, Easter Sunday is not Easter Sunday, it’s a whole history of people. It goes all the way back to the Jewish people. And the Jewish people celebrated the Passover as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord.
As you know, if you were here last night, there’s ten readings from Scripture, eight of them from the Old Testament. And the one that must be read, must be read, is the one that describes Moses and the children of Israel escaping from the Egyptians.
As you know, the Jewish people were in Egypt for four hundred years under the heel of a terrible oppressive slavery. And at this time, they were free to leave, but only for a moment.
Of course, as Moses led his people away from this terrible land, they were just a rag tag group of people, not organised, not anything, and he led them through and out towards the Red Sea.
And they got to the Red Sea, and the word came to them that Pharaoh had changed his mind and now he was going to chase them down and he was going to bring them back and make them slaves again.
Moses looked up to heaven and he didn’t know what and then a voice said to him, “Stretch out your rod,” and he stretched out his rod. And there, the waters parted. The children of Israel ran across with great happiness and joy, to the other side on dry land.
And, of course, by the time the Pharaoh’s army got there with their chariots and warriors, it was still open, so they rushed into the gap in order to catch the Israelites.
And what happened was Moses looked up again to God, and then God said, “Reach out your rod.” And he reached it out and the waters began to close. All the Pharaoh’s armies, the chariots, the men were drowning in the sea.
And that is the way this story ends, except in the Bible the Jewish people were so happy, especially Moses’ sister, that they began to sing and dance. And they were so happy because now they were free and they saw the others drowning in the sea.
And then an ancient story carries on from where the Bible leaves off, and the story goes:
“And they were so happy that the angels from heaven looking down were also happy and they were saying, ‘What a wonderful thing. We are saved.’ And they began to sing songs along with the Jewish people who had been saved.
“And then God suddenly turned on the angels and He says, ‘How can you sing and dance when My own children are drowning in the water?’”
Think of that now. We often think of religion, among other things, as good guys and bad guys, and the important people and the less important people. We think of them as… We divide them up according to our funny way of dividing things: the successful, the unsuccessful. And it’s wrong.
And I think that this little parable is enough to say why it’s wrong. Because the people of Egypt were created by God, loved by God and held in high esteem in the heart of God, just as much as the people of Israel.
There is no such thing as a pecking order of good or bad among us. We are told: “Do not judge lest you be judged.” We are told that no one is allowed to look upon another man as less perfect, less important than oneself.
And it’s at times like this that this ancient parable speaks to us, because Easter is also a time of great sorrow — not Easter Day, not the Resurrection, but everything that led up to it.
And we are saved not by God’s resurrected Son, we are saved because of what God’s resurrected Son had done for us in the midst of terrible anguish and pain.
“For God so loved the world that He sent His Son that we might be saved.”
And he was rejected. And in the end, his friends left him, the authorities condemned him, Rome sentenced him to death, a death on the cross.
And then, at that time, Jesus hanging on the cross, the last gasp of his life, he looks out at everybody who had welcomed him as their Saviour and now had condemned him in this terrible, terrible way, and he turned to his Father and he said, “Father, you have to forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”
It is that moment that we are saved.
It is not because we are smarter and better and filled with all kinds of wonderful, wonderful plusses in our personality or what have you.
We are saved because Jesus, at the moment when everybody had left him and the world condemned him, we are saved because Jesus says, “Father, you must forgive them,” and the Father forgives them.
Now, think of what we really are. We are the children of God. We are the heirs of heaven. We are those who follow Jesus in love and in caring.
And that is what makes us important. Not in the eyes of God, God had already made us important by giving us life and giving us talents and giving us whatever we have we know that we owe to the Father.
But it must be said and it must be true that each man who is born into this world, is loved and cherished as much by God and by Jesus as we who know and accept him as our Lord and our Master.
So I think what I would like to beg of you at this time in celebrating the sacred feast, to remember that we were called to love — not to love, to learn how to love.
And that is what Jesus comes to do. He comes to teach us how to love.
And that’s why we also must be as he, and say, “Father, forgive them.”
We must be forgiving. We must be caring. We must reach out.
God only reaches out. God doesn’t count His victories and His defeats. God reaches out with love and care.
Remember the Last Supper, what is the first thing that Jesus does at the beginning of this Passion, Death and Resurrection theme?
The first thing he does is washes his disciples’ feet – the act of a slave – unheard of.
So much that St Peter said, “I’ll have none of this. You cannot wash me.”
And then Jesus says, “If I cannot wash you, you will never know who I am. You can have nothing to do with me.”
And poor Peter, he said, “Not only my feet, but my hands and my head and my whole body,” because the worst thing that could happen to Peter was the loss of Jesus.
This is a great lesson for us today in practical ways.
It means that the people who enter our lives are not to be judged according to their talents, not according to whether we feel that we like them or we don’t like them, or whether they belong to our language or our people or our crowd.
We love them because God made them, and if we cannot see their greatness, it’s because we are blind.
Remember Jesus also said, “You have eyes to see, but you don’t see. You have ears to hear, but you’re not listening.”
And he says this, not in degradation, he says this, he says, “Open your eyes and open your ears, and every person that you meet is a child of God, an heir of heaven and valuable beyond your understanding.”
And our task is to see in them what God sees in them, and to treat them as God treats them, and to care for them as God cares for them. And it is true.
The other great gift that Jesus gives us when he says to his Father, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” the great truth that Jesus is saying is: learn to forgive.
There’s an old saying, Jesus himself says it, he says, “Be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
And everybody thinks, oh you have to be superman or super lady, or totally clean or never have mucked around in the mud. It’s not true, because Jesus had done all of those things.
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” is the old Jewish understanding of what is perfection.
And you’ll be surprised to understand that when they say God is perfect, they mean God is forgiving – nothing more, nothing less – God forgives. If you would be like God, you must learn to forgive.
If you want to go your own way, you may go your own way. But God will follow you, because He never gives up on us, and He will teach us how to forgive.
So, the greatest gift that we have and we embrace at this special time in our lives is to learn how to forgive. And it’s so simple.
The good man, the Bible says, the good man falls seven times a day.
What does that tell us?
It means that we are people who must be forgiven again and again and again. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be perfect and good and all these other things.
We must learn to forgive.
And in the forgiving, what do we find?
In the forgiving, we find the love of God.
And why did Jesus come and die for us?
That we might know that God loves us beyond telling and that God is with us beyond the ages.
And so, this small period of time when we celebrate this Easter Sunday, the two lessons that we must learn is to learn to love and to learn to forgive, and to learn in forgiving how to love.
Take it seriously. Bring this home. Think about it.
When you fail (the good man falls seven times a day), is that discouraging?
No. Mother Teresa says, “The only failure in life is when you fall down, you refuse to get up again.”
How many times must you fail?
We only learn through our mistakes. We never learn through our pride.
Let us then, during this Mass, ask God to make us what we once promised, maybe as infants, we would be, which are to renew our baptismal promises.
And to thank God for making us one with Him, that we might penetrate the great mysteries.
And, with great joy in our hearts, give ourselves to the love that Jesus would have us love, and the caring that Jesus has shown us as caring.
And, most of all, always forgive, for in forgiving, we ourselves are healed.