There are sometimes when I wish I was God, or minimally, that I had Jesus’ power to heal the sick. The most recent time was this Friday during one of my communion calls. There is a woman there whom I have brought communion to for a few years now. She looks at me, her eyes track, sometimes her lips mouth inaudibly the words of the Lord’s Prayer, she follows the bread to her hands – but never anything more. I so want to know what is going on in her head. Couldn’t I just have the power to go *snap* – and she’d be free/able to speak and converse and be THERE with me? I would love to be God if I could do that.
But the part of God’s job I would not want is perhaps the most important one. Deciding. Judging. Sifting. Who gets into to heaven and who doesn’t? What are the qualifications for that? What if someone is ‘close’ but like that student with a 68% average has neither ‘extra-credit’ nor ‘class-participation’ points: how do you decide whether to let them in or not?
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” is the question shouted at Jesus along the way to Jerusalem. Unspoken in that question is the one question that matters: “What gets you in?” If there are not many, then how does God decide who is in and who is out, who’s got the passing grade and who will be left outside, “wailing and gnashing their teeth”? It is at that point where I realize I don’t want to be God to have to make that decision. I would hate that part of his job description.
HOW MANY will get in? It is a question that each generation of believers wrestles with. The details of the afterlife and the means of getting into heaven and avoiding hell were questions that preoccupied my parents’ generation of believers, almost to an unhealthy extent. They were paranoid about the venial sins (the hamburger you ate during a Friday in lent) and accidental failings that might keep you out. My generation, having being taught over and over that God is a loving God who is always ready to forgive, believes that everyone gets in. If God is love, than how could he not let us ALL in? This makes us utterly indifferent to spiritual development. If eternal life is a given, then why should I bother with spiritual things?
Jesus’ response takes a kind of different road, doesn’t it? He turns his attention to the questioner. “It is not about God’s role in deciding who or how, or how many. Don’t start the conversation there.” That leads either to paranoia or indifference. Rather, he says: “STRIVE to enter through the narrow gate.” Know that the life you are seeking to enter into is more than just ‘knowing about Jesus’ – “he taught in our streets, we shared a beer at the local tavern.” Rather, eternal life is the stuff of STRIVING.
It is all about participating to the fullest degree possible in the very life of God. It means conformity to love. It means allowing the relationship with God to invade EVERY aspect of who we are, so that grace flows through you and into the wider world. Eternal life is allowing ourselves to be caught up in the embrace of God. This is not SOFT language. This requires disciplined striving. To walk the path of love is not an easy thing. To be conformed to Christ is an entry into that narrow gate. It is about turning the whole of your life to love, to self gift every day. You don’t do this on cruise control. NO, it is only by imitating Jesus’ way of being that Jesus comes to KNOW us. Jesus recognizes his own.
And that is how judgment works. It is not God up there sifting the D – (minus) students from the F students at the gate. “You’re in. You’re just barely in. You – too bad. You –definitely out! Rather, it is God looking at us trying to see something of Jesus in us. And He will only see that to the extent we have allowed ourselves to live his way of emptying love. He will see Jesus in us, to the extent that we have strived to enter that narrow gate.
The Trappist Monk, Thomas Keating said it this way: “Most of you will not enter into heaven.” He went on to say that he was not speaking about HOW MANY of us; he was speaking about HOW MUCH of each of us won’t. All that is NOT GOD will not be able to enter the narrow gate. All that is selfish and egocentric, all that is small and petty and not Christ like – none of that will fit. The gate is narrow because it is precisely in the shape of Jesus himself. It looks like him, is shaped like him, it loves like him, heals like him, interacts with the world like him. And if we would enter it, then we have to learn to look and be like him as well.
Are they few who will enter the kingdom of heaven? Don’t ask the question that way, Jesus tells us. It’s not about God judging and sifting sinners from saints, but about that day when we see God and he sees us. He will say to us: “Ah, I know you. I see my Son in you.” And we will say back: “And I know you too, because I see your Son in you.”