"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. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell - and great was its fall!" Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
One of the most enjoyable things about the Christian community (in the widest sense) is that we share our faith with men and women who lived thousands of years ago, and use (mostly) the same holy texts to serve as a guide in our spiritual practice. Although we are nearly two thousand years away from the words that were written in the New Testament (and even more than that for the Old Testament!), we have fellow sojourners who were much closer in time (and worldview) that have recorded many of their connections and interpretations. Often, these readings are quite different from the connections and conclusions I'd come to on my own simply because folks don't read in the same way now as they did in the first few centuries of Chistianity.
This week, however, there's nothing novel about the connection that Justin Martyr and Origen (who wrote in the second and third century respectively) make between this week's reading from Matthew 7 and a later portion of Matthew's Gospel - it's just that I wouldn't have thought to go there. Given that Matthew 7 is the conclusion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the natural tendency for me would be to reflect on what Jesus has said already rather than look ahead to what he will say. And as we've seen over the last several weeks, what Jesus has said hasn't always been easy to understand! Now he's talking about who will enter the kingdom of heaven, so things sure aren't getting any easier:
"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."
The obvious question is, "What does it look like to do the will of the Father?" Jesus just finished saying that describing him as "Lord" isn't enough by itself. He then tells us that prophesying, casting out demons in his name, and working miracles aren't sure signs either. These things were (and are) so often considered signs of God's power and blessing that it must have been astonishing to hear the miracle-worker himself turn the tables! And to top it off, he doesn't actually give his listeners an answer! As with so many of his teachings, the listener is called on to reflect.
This would be a suitable enough place to conclude. Jesus has just finished some very difficult teachings and now calls on his hearers to struggle with the most difficult parts. An yet, since the connection that Justin and Origen make to Matthew 25 doesn't make the process any easier, it seems to me that it's well worth looking at:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The otherworldly (angels and demons; eternal punishment and eternal life) and paternalistic (Father; Lord; King) elements in this passage don't make this an easy read for modern ears, but the teaching offers tremendous insight into what Jesus believed to be the will of God: compassion. And not just pulled heartstrings, but actually doing something for those who are hungry, thirsty, alone, naked, sick, or imprisoned. There's a bit (okay, maybe more than a bit) of cognitive dissonance for when I embrace a man calling on me to be sacrificially compassionate... or else! but dwelling on that would be an excuse for me to ignore the ways in which I (and the society in which I live) ignore or even exploit the very people Jesus is talking about. Dealing with that is much more difficult.