13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “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 who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
To summarize these last verses: “Okay y’all, I just told you what to do. Now go put it into practice.”
I wonder how much Jesus shakes his head and rolls his eyes at us. I can just see him sitting on his celestial throne, groaning “Come on, guys, get it together!” like you would do while watching your team lose because of a series of unforced errors. Perhaps he leans over to God and says, “I told them. You saw me tell them, right? I told them exactly what to do, but here we are anyway.”
In all reality I doubt it’s like that, but that is the first image that came to my mind. What does happen, though, if we chose the wrong path? Listen to the wrong person? Put our faith (aka build our foundation) in the wrong thing? Does this eternally damn us? Jesus does say “broad is the road that leads to destruction,” which sounds pretty damn scary.
Here’s my take. And again, this is just one layperson’s thoughts. A layperson who isn’t particularly holy, doesn’t have any theological education, and hasn’t even been to that many Bible studies. But here we go anyway. I don’t think this life is our last chance. Think of it like a college class, where your coursework counts for a large chunk of your grade, but so does the final exam. So of course you want to do well on your coursework, to get that high mark. But if you’re not doing great, you can still study really hard and do well on the final exam, passing the class. And, if you have been doing well all semester, you’ll probably do well on the final exam, too. This life is like the coursework, and our final hearing before God is like the final exam. The Nicene Creed, which gets recited almost every Sunday at my Episcopal Church, says Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” so I do know he’s coming. Beyond that, I haven’t read a lot of the Bible that deals with eschatological issues, so I don’t know if this judgement, this final hearing, if you will, is a big, grand Judgement Day or if it happens individually when each of us dies, but the point is we get one final hearing.
This final hearing is the main reason I don’t worry too much about the souls of people who aren’t Christian, why I’m not running around trying to “save” everyone. To keep with our college class analogy, I’m keeping my eyes on my own work. There are a lot of Christians out there (apologies for the jab, but mostly conservative and Evangelical) that would do well to remember this, because I believe it is them Jesus is talking about when he says, “many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.’ ” Those who claim Christianity, but then deny the rights of others, say hateful things, support hateful leaders, discriminate and belittle all in the “name of Christ” are not true Christians.
I’ve quoted John 13:35 before, where Jesus says “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So, if someone is spreading love and goodness in the world, even if it isn’t in Jesus’ name, I truly believe that God will see the good work they are doing, and count it in their favor. It may sound hokey, and I’ll probably piss off some non-Christians with this next bit, but I’m going to say it anyway: When said person comes before God and Jesus in their final judgment, they will be before God, which means God has revealed Xyrself to them, and they will get the chance to fall down and worship, or pledge their allegiance, or see the truth – whatever you want to call it. Perhaps there are some that could deny God to Xyr face, in all Xyr glory, Jesus sitting right there, both surrounded by the Holy Spirit, but that would be a pretty magnificent sight to turn away from.
So, does it not matter at all what religion you are? Or if you even believe in a God at all? Yes and no. One more time with our class analogy: I feel like being Christian gives me a ready-made study guide, like I bought the textbook with the important parts already highlighted and noted. That doesn’t mean you can’t pass the class without this extra help, it’s just going to be a bit more work to get that A. But again, what we need to worry about is our own selves, keeping our eyes on our own work and not worrying about the unknowable depths of someone else’s secret heart. God will know us, and them, by our actions, by our love. So Jesus’ final assignment for you today, from this lesson called the Sermon on the Mount is to get out there and love one another. Love the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Love the Salt of the Earth people. Love those who adhere to a law of love. Love those who live at peace with their neighbors. Love those who uphold the rights of women and other minorities. Show your love through simple promises and nonviolent resistance. Love your enemies, and guard your secret heart. Do not worry, for God is with us, Xe alone will judge us, as we have judged. By doing all this, we have already chosen the small gate and narrow path that leads to life, life everlasting.