Heaven Is God’s Gift to Us Sinners

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel was an outsider. Yet she had tremendous courage and faith in approaching Jesus. She is a reminder to all of us of the mercy and compassion of God, and how God looks into the heart of the person and does not judge by appearance.

Once upon a time a group of people gathered outside the gates of heaven. They were upright, respectable, God-fearing people. Down on earth they had moved in the same business and social circles. As they stood around waiting for St. Peter to open the gates, they exchanged friendly greetings: “Thank God you made it, John.” “So good to see you, Mary!” and so on.

St. Peter had already greeted them and right now was fumbling with the keys of the gate. They were amazed that there had been no judgment. Now that they were sure of getting in, they were eager to take their reserved places in the front rows.

Suddenly there was a commotion, and a voice was raised, “Well, look who is coming! If it isn’t old Mr. Jacob.” Jacob was a Jewish businessman who had a reputation for being mean. Next a gypsy woman, who had a number of convictions for shoplifting, arrived. Then, to their horror, they saw a woman approaching who had been a woman of the streets! She was followed by a young man who spent time in prison.

These late arrivals, feeling the hostility of the first group, gathered in a little group all by themselves. Then a man turned to them and said, “What makes you people think you are going to get into heaven? Surely not your own merits.”

“Certainly not,” came the surprising reply. “We are hoping to get in through the mercy and compassion of God. And, if I may ask, what makes you people think you are going to get in?”

“A good life, of course,” came the confident reply.

Time was beginning to drag on for the first group. They started to complain to one another, “It’s not fair that people like these should get in. There is no justice!” And they worked themselves up into a fury. But then the Lord arrived. Turning to the first group he said, “I understand you have been wondering why there has been no judgment.”

“Yes,” they responded. “We want a judgment. We want justice!” The Lord said, “But the judgment has already taken place.” “What do you mean?” they asked. “You have judged yourselves by judging these people,” said the Lord.

They were blown away, and began to complain, “It’s not fair. We tried to live good lives while these others lived bad lives.”

“Yes, they have done bad things,” replied the Lord, “but they have repented, and I am merciful. I don’t find any signs of repentance among you. You have had an abundance of the good things of life, but they’ve had to get by on crumbs.”

“Take Mr. Jacob. He was no saint, but he worked hard for his family, and in quiet ways did many charitable works. And that gypsy woman was the mother of eleven children. Her husband was an alcoholic. Many would have thrown in the towel, but she showed great courage and faith. And that Mary Magdalen. At heart she was a kind woman. When she got married she was expecting love, but got abuse after abuse from her husband. And the young prisoner grow up in an environment in which he had to live off of crumbs.”

“Yet I find more faith, more courage, more humility, and more love among them than among you who sat down at the banquet table.” Having said this, the Lord opened the gates, and the second group followed him inside, radiant with smiles.

There are no reserved places at the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Kingdom. We are called to do our best with what we have, always trusting in the mercy and compassion of God. The reality is, we don’t deserve Heaven. Heaven is God’s gift to us sinners.

— Fr. Dennis, August 16, 2020