Who’s in and who’s out?

– Memorial of St Elizabeth of Hungary –

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” [Luke 6:37]

I do not know how you imagine heaven to be, much less how you anticipate that moment when you move from this life into the presence of God. Let’s start with heaven. It is a tricky subject today, partly because of the inadequate ways in which we have depicted and described it over the centuries. At a loss to convey a reality that is beyond human comprehension, we resort to referencing images we are familiar with that may point us in the right direction, but which inevitably fall short. The vision of saints and angels floating around, sitting on clouds and playing harps, does provide an insight into the ‘more than this world’ dimension of heaven, but brings with it more questions than answers. The attempt to depict beauty, music and an experience beyond current constraints is what our typical imagery represents. I guess we have to start somewhere.

But what about the entry point to this eternal experience? The idea that it involves St Peter and a conversation where we learn the news as to whether we are ‘in or out’ is to some degree founded on the gospels. In giving Peter ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ [Matthew 16:13-20], Jesus sets the scene for Peter being depicted as the gatekeeper, there to announce the fate of each of us as we make our way from this life to the next. However, that is an extrapolation from the imagery of ‘keys’ that Jesus uses, and is not endorsed elsewhere in our Scriptures and faith teaching. It is before God that each of us will come, specifically manifest in the person of Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20:1-15).

And what will Jesus be looking for as he looks on and into us? Some say he will be looking for whether or not we have faith in him. Certainly, that is not without significance. A living faith, where our hope is in Jesus and our lives grounded in him, is the sure entry point to salvation. But faith is more than belief. What we truly believe is revealed in what we do. Today’s gospel text reminds us of this. To receive the healing and forgiveness we require to ‘live in God’ for eternity, we are to refrain from judgement and condemnation, and to offer forgiveness. A faith that fails in this regard is not faith at all.

By Shane Dwyer

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