Today’s gospel serves as a powerful lesson—admonishment—against Catholics who have been entrusted with the fullness of divine revelation and the treasury of the Christian faith in Christ, yet have nevertheless squandered it through acts of injustice, apostasy, and heresy toward the Tripersonal God.
Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And as for you, Capernaum: Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld. For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Mt 11:20-24)
The towns of Chorazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida came into contact with Jesus and directly witnessed his almighty deeds of divine and miraculous power as the incarnate Son of God, yet they rejected him and refused to believe and repent of their sins.
On the other hand, Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom did not witness the mighty deeds of Christ and thus did not have the same opportunity to repent and believe in him. In other words, they had been given less. Jesus assures his listeners that if they had been granted the same opportunity to witness him and come to repentance, they would have surely done so wholeheartedly, by dawning sackcloth and ashes.
Consequently, Chorazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida will be judged more harshly for their rigidness of heart and neglect of Jesus’ message. For they had been given more but failed to respond to what was given. This is in keeping with Jesus teaching elsewhere in scripture: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Lk 12:48).
This serves as a powerful lesson—admonishment—against Catholics who have been entrusted with the fullness of divine revelation and the treasury of the Christian faith in Christ, yet have nevertheless squandered it through acts of injustice, apostasy, heresy and disobedience toward the Tripersonal God—such as, for example, refusing to give God his proper due of public worship at Sunday Eucharist and on other holy days of obligation; by repudiating the divine faith of the Church; by voluntarily rejecting some teaching of the Church that is to be believed de fide, on faith; by adhering to various secular-humanist, postmodern dogmas opposed to the definitive magisterial teaching of the Church on morals and which are contrary to the dignity of the human person.
The fact is, we will be judged at the point of death on our love and level of fidelity to Christ, his teaching, and his commandments (see Hebrews 9:27, Mt 25:31 ff., 7:21-23, et al). As St. John of the Cross noted, “at the evening of life, we will be judged on love.” Consequently, not everyone will attain the same level of heavenly glory. As the ecumenical council of Trent taught definitively and as St. Paul attests (see 2 Cor 12:1-4), there are different “levels” of heaven or varying degrees of heavenly glory for the faithful, since at death everyone will be repaid accordingly for his deeds:
Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:4-11)
God’s judgment will be unique to each person since each person’s intentions of heart and works are unique and God’s judgment is perfectly just, given to suit the specific deeds (or negligent lack of them) of the individual.
Even so, where sin abounds grace abounds even more, says St. Paul: “[W]here sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:20-21).
Christ’s mercy is always available to us here below. Let us acknowledge his mighty works, repent and confess our sins, embrace him in faith and self-entrustment, and respond fully to the magnificent gifts of the divine and Christian faith we have been given through the belief of holy mother Church.
It is helpful to say this prayer frequently in sincere repentance throughout the day: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Increase my faith in you. Do with me as it pleases you according to your all good and all perfect will.”
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Photo Credit: John Martin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.