(The Nationalist, 20 August 2004)
It’s not so long since that question created anxiety among Irish people. Now, the pendulum has swung the other way. We have a relaxed, easy-going assumption that everyone is saved because God is good. We absolve ourselves of guilt and take salvation for granted.
When Jesus was asked the question, he answered by saying, ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow gate, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed’. (Luke 13.23-24)
What is the basis on which a person is saved or not? The parable of judgment in Matthew 25.31-46 says it is a matter of recognizing and respecting the humanity of the other – or not.
And that challenge applies to all. Jesus said, ‘Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ (Matthew 12.50) “Whoever” is important.
What is to be the defining characteristic of a follower of Jesus? He said, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’. (John 13.35)
He also said, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ (Matthew 19.19) and, ‘Love your enemies’. (Matthew 5.44) Sometimes our neighbour and our enemies are one and the same. Few commandments are easier to understand or more demanding to follow.
Its application is universal, not just for a holy huddle of the self-approving. In response to a question about where the right place to worship was, Jesus replied, ‘Believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain (in Samaria) nor in Jerusalem…. But the hour will come – in fact it is here already – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth’. (John 4.21, 23-24)
The early Christians understood this. Peter, the first of the apostles, said, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but that in every nation anyone who reveres God and does what is right is acceptable to him’. (Acts 10.34-35)
‘There are many whom God has, and the church does not have them; and there are many whom the church has, and God does not have them’. (Saint Augustine) And Saint John of the Cross wrote, ‘In the end we will be judged on how we have loved’. Everyone is challenged to love everyone.