Thursday, December 2, 2010

Entrance into God's Kingdom Not a Matter of Affiliation, Nor Mere Participation, But a Matter of Total Transformation

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.' "Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined." (Matthew, 7:21-27)

This teaching of Jesus in today's Gospel from the Mass lays out for us from Matthew's perspective the criteria for entering into God's Kingdom or Reign. To begin with, it's important to note that Matthew's gospel was written to a Jewish audience, some of whom may still have been wrestling with how to simultaneously hold their Jewish faith with their new found Christian faith. For faithful observers of the Jewish faith, this meant a robust sense of affiliation and participation. Affiliation refers to identity. Part of what made a Jew a good, observant follower of the Hebrew law and covenant was a strong sense of identity. Participation flows directly from this sense of identity and reinforces it: in addition to participating in weekly Sabbath observance and seasonal holy days, there were many religious customs that a good, faithful, law abiding Jewish person was encouraged to perform in order to fully participate in the Jewish faith.

Jesus, however, directly challenges these presuppositions by stating that affiliation and participation are simply not enough to enter into God's Kingdom that is already among us and still yet to come. By saying, "not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the Kingdom of heaven," Jesus says in so many words that identifying one's self as Jewish or Jewish-Christian (or Christian in our own day) does not suffice. Furthermore, it's not even enough to participate in the faith by ministering in Jesus name!

This of course begs the question, "well, than, how DOES one enter God's Kingdom?" This is alluded to by the parable of the person who built their house on rock versus the one who built it on sand. To build on rock one has to hew deeply and put forth a great deal of effort in order to lay a foundation that can weather the storms of life. To lay one on sand, of course, implies not digging very deeply nor expending much effort. What "laying one's foundation on rock" means in terms of entering God's Kingdom is that it requires a total transformation of one's unconsciously held presuppositions about life, human existence, and God and the core of one's attitudes, convictions, and values. Nothing less than a commitment to the process of wholesale transformation is ultimately implied if one is to become like Christ and fully enter the "New Creation" that is already growing in our midst. Pat, TOR