Jesus teaches that salvation is by charity and works of justice, not only by glib recitation of formulae or even by assiduous performance of religious duties.
Here’s one story we probably have heard before about religious affiliations. A certain man dies and is welcomed at the pearly gates. He is given a tour of the mansions of heaven by the angel in charge. As they pass various chambers, the angel identifies the inhabitants, “This is where Roman Catholics reside and here are the Lutherans, and these are the Anglicans.” As they pass another room, the angel whispers: “Ssh! This is where the Iglesia ni Cristo are. They think they’re the only ones here!”
This story is a humorous way of acknowledging our limited vision of
the Kingdom of God. But the story loses its humour if it becomes as broadly inclusive as Jesus suggests in the Gospel reading, when he says that people “will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at the table in the Dominion of God.” This is not something that Jesus made up. His words reflect the imagery in the Old Testament reading, which speaks of bringing people from all the nations to the Holy Mountain of Jerusalem.
Jesus had been asked the question, “Lord, will those who are saved few?” Following this thought, we have difficulties when we follow the principle further and realize that many are called to the Kingdom who are not members of our churches, who are not devout, who are not respectable. And it is hard to take quite seriously the proposition that many who are now last in our society and in our own esteem will be first, and that many who now are first in reputation and achievement will not fare so well.
As Luke gathers together sayings of Jesus which challenge our too easy assumptions, we must put that in the context of his final journey to Jerusalem. How many are to be saved is not really our business to know in advance, but we must know that it is a struggle like going through a narrow door. Familiarity with one’s spirituality and worship is no guarantee of admission to the Kingdom. Some will come from far away and will be more welcomed.
Jesus teaches that salvation is by charity and works of justice, not only by glib recitation of formulae or even by assiduous performance of religious duties. To our amazement we find that the more disreputable and irreligious among us are those who are moved profoundly by charity. This realization does indeed suggest a reversal of first and last. The whole teaching of Jesus should lead us to think in Paradoxes about the invitation to the Kingdom.