Thursday, May 29, 2014

Salvation Sheep

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This was the startling remark attributed to Jesus by John in our Gospel reading of the 5th Sunday of Easter (14:1-12) of a few weeks ago.  It has been a passage used by many claiming that salvation and eternal life only are possible through Jesus Christ, and every time we hear it read it’s hard not to reach this conclusion.  

Yes, he is the way, the truth, and the life for those who embrace Jesus and Christianity, but for millions of others be they Jews, Muslims, or whatever, salvation and eternal life is offered through a simple formula shared by all faiths.

Consider this passage from Matthew (25:31-46):  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.  And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’

He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Jesus is saying that people gain eternal life by doing good things for people in need and not because they have seen or heard of him.   It’s a question of whether we are a sheep or a goat.

This powerful passage should be a constant reminder for Catholics and all Christians not to be so judgmental and assume we are God’s favored ones.  That attitude puts us smack dab in the middle of the goat herd.

Pope Francis surely appreciated the need to put on wool when he visited the Holy Land this past Saturday during his 3-day outing to Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, and Israel.  On Sunday he said an open-air Mass in Bethlehem that today is more than two-thirds Muslim.  Pope Francis’ official delegation included a Jew and a Muslim, two old friends from Buenos Aires: Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud of the Islamic Center of the Argentine Republic.  He visited the Dome of the Rock where he met with Muslim leaders, and he prayed at the Western Wall later meeting with the chief rabbis of Israel.

Focusing on the need for all religions to assist the poor, Pope Francis clearly has a right-side, eternal-life seat reserved for himself.  On what side will we be sitting?

Deacon David Pierce

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