Jesus said to his disciples: “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” (Mt 7:21).
I have written quite often, paraphrasing one of my favorite quotes from St. Irenaeus, that Jesus came to be one with us so that we can be one with him and that his invitation is for everyone, no one is excluded. You may be thinking, readying to write a response, or muttering under your breath that, “If everyone is invited, how can Jesus say that not everyone will enter the Kingdom of heaven?”
The answer to that question is in the line that follows. The one who will enter heaven is, “the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” If this verse does not help, then it might be helpful to understand a little about heaven, as best as we can as, the mere mortal, finite beings that we are.
Heaven is not so much a place but a state of being in relation to God. Heaven is the state of being in which we are privileged to share communion, a deeper intimacy with God for all eternity. We will still not know everything about God because God is infinite and we will still be finite in heaven. God is without limit, we are limited. We will never exhaust our relationship, never get bored with God.
Maybe a more three dimensional, earthly example may be of help. If we were invited to play a sport, an instrument, or to act in a play, with the end goal being that we would play in the upcoming game, concert, or performance, we might feel pretty excited about the offer. We tell the coach, conductor, or director “That’s great news!” Yet, in the days that follow, we do not attend any of the practices, we do not practice the skills required to play the position, instrument, or role and we don’t return any of the follow up invitations by phone, email, or text. The day of the big game, concert, or performance comes, we gather our self together and head on over to the arena or hall. We arrive to see the coach, conductor, or director but are denied entrance. You might say, “I don’t understand, you invited me to play!” The reply is, “Not everyone who says to me coach, coach (conductor, conductor, or director, director) is ready and prepared.”
Jesus indeed invites us to be in relationship with him, yes everyone. Some say yes and some say no. Some say yes, and then don’t do anything, some say yes and do some things, some say yes and dive in. Most of us take a few steps forward and a step or two back. Just like preparing to play in the big game or perform in the big concert, or play, we need to be committed, disciplined, and persistent with our faith life. Unlike a missed opportunity to participate in a game or performance, that we can correct and make another attempt down the road, we don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven.
The above analogy does not imply in any way that we earn our way to heaven, or we can do so on our own effort and will power. The bottom line is that Jesus gave his life for all of us and through his grace we have been saved. This is a free gift. Yet, we have to be willing to receive and open the gift. Our time here on earth is time we are given to work out our salvation and be about building a relationship with Jesus, being conformed to him, so that we can come to know his Father as he does.
If we want to know God’s will, we need to come to know God. Advent is a time of preparation, to place ourselves in a position before God so we can come to know him and his will. Jesus helps us to recognize that we are off the target when we attempt to conform God’s will to our small reality. Instead we need to reorient ourselves such that we allow our minds and hearts to be opened by his love.
This happens when we are quiet and still, through prayer, spending time in his word, spending time in worship and fellowship, and in doing so we will be more open to be led by the Holy Spirit to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to others in an act of service for another’s sake and not just our own. For we are here not only to actualize the grace we have been given for our salvation, we are to help others to do the same.
Photo: Icon, “Lakota Jesus and children”, by Fr. John Giuliani