Do you believe in Hell? Do you believe in it enough? Does the existence of Hell guide and instruct your life and your moral decisions? There is an old American expression for living as if there were no consequences to our immoral actions. We say it is like “whistling past the graveyard”.
We don’t speak about Hell very often. Many prefer to think and act as if Hell does not exist. However, Jesus has spoken about it frequently. At least five times in the Gospels, Jesus is quoted as saying that a person will be judged and thrown outside the gates of the Kingdom of God where there will be darkness and “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. This teaching is in his parables about the Kingdom of God. Some will get into heaven. Some will not: For all eternity.
In the Gospel parable by Jesus about poor Lazarus and the rich man, after they both die, poor Lazarus goes to Heaven. The rich man goes to Hell, but he can still see Heaven and Father Abraham and Lazarus. But there is a great abyss between Heaven and Hell, and the rich man is said to be
“suffering torment in… flames”.
He is told he must stay and suffer in Hell because of his actions in his worldly life. Jesus is consistent in his descriptions of Hell.
In a recent Sunday Gospel we heard that a wedding guest was thrown out of the banquet because he was not dressed in a wedding garment. That was symbolic speech that he was not baptized and that he did not distinguish his life with good deeds. We know that baptism is essential for being admitted to the Kingdom, from the authority of Jesus’ own words, as he told the Pharisee Nicodemus,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus was asked who will be saved. He responded that the Lord will tell some of us,
“Depart from me all you evildoers”
and that there will be
“… wailing and grinding of teeth”.
outside the Kingdom, in the darkness.
There are reasons for being tossed out of the Kingdom “where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” and they all have to do with sin and the choices we make in this life.
Today’s Gospel is particularly disturbing. It might appear that there is no particular sin involved in the judgment of the third servant who buried his Talent. Nobody stole anything. Nobody hurt anybody. The servant returned the Talent given to him without taking anything from the Master. The Master didn’t lose anything.
However, the servant held the Master in low esteem. He did not hold his Master in high esteem as we see from his words,
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.’
That borders on being insulting or demeaning! How many of us hold God in such low esteem? Do we really fear and honor Him as God?
This parable begins with Jesus teaching again about the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel paragraph after this parable, Jesus says of the final Judgment,
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
This is how Jesus describes the final Judgment. I don’t know about you, but I hope I am among the sheep.
Why won’t the third servant get into heaven? (The one who buried the talent and returned it to the Master?) Why will he be cast out? No clear sin is attributed to him?
By the way, the word “Talent” comes from the word that meant the largest unit of money of that day. It was probably a very large amount of money. You could think of it like an ounce of gold in today’s values. An ounce of gold today is worth about $1,800; or a $1,000 bill. In later years, as language evolved and was shaped by our scripture stories, the word “Talent” came to also be used for a personal skill or gift. So we may speak of an artist or musician or a surgeon or an athlete as having “talent”. Any personal gift you have is understood today be a “talent” you have received, and we can understand the Gospel to be referring to more than money.
Think of God as giving us an enormous gift or treasure by our baptism. No amount of money can purchase this gift. By our baptism God has opened to us the doors of the Church and the Sacraments. If you are not baptized you cannot receive the Eucharist or Confirmation or Holy Orders and the Graces of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. By our baptism God has opened to us the Gates of Heaven and eternal life.
Now, if we are appreciative and live in the Sacramental Life of the Church, we study our faith, we honor and worship God faithfully, we care for our brothers and sisters who are weaker and more vulnerable, then we are growing and maturing in our faith and serving God. We may still be sinful and weak and in need of God’s forgiveness. Nevertheless we are trying to serve God. This is the kind of enterprising faith that God expects us to seek. But we must seek it! That is what the lazy servant did not do. He received, but he did not seek to grow or improve. Apparently it was just too much trouble for him, and he did not have a very high opinion of his Master, as we saw.
If, after Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation (the “Sacraments of Initiation”) we seldom come back to Mass and the Sacraments, and we live selfish lives away from the Church, then we are like the lazy servant who buried the Talent entrusted to him. We may be what is often referred to as a “good person”; perhaps we don’t steal or cheat; we may even do some good deeds for others. But neither do we love or worship or seek God. We are what Jesus has referred to as “lukewarm”. That person will be treated like the lazy servant who is cast out into the darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth for all eternity, in Hell. In our earthly life we were guilty of “whistling past the graveyard”.