This week brings an end to our six week meditation on the Sermon on The Mount of Jesus (Matt 5-7). We do well to remember some basic fundamentals about this wonderful sermon of our Lord:

  1. The Lord is not merely reciting moralisms. The word moralism tends to refer to the mere recitation of rules and norms more as slogans than as deep truths that emerge from a vision of life.
  2.  The Lord is describing more than he is prescribing. In effect he is painting a picture of what the transformed human being is like. What happens to a human person whom the Lord, through his indwelling Holy Spirit, is transforming?  We will review some of this picture below.
  3. This transformation is a work of God, not of the flesh. It is the Lord who works this in us by living his life in us. As we enter more deeply into a life-changing and transformative relationship with Jesus this is what begins to happen in us and what begins to grow.
  4. This concept of a life changing and transformative relationship will be important to remember in today’s Gospel passage when the Lord declares rather solemnly that he does not “know” some of us.

In today’s Gospel we come face to face with the ultimate necessity of allowing the Lord to transform us. The Lord, in the Sermon on the Mount , is offering us a whole new life and we must choose to accept it and see our life change, based on it, or we will simply be unfit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Our flesh hates these sort of “all or nothing” scenarios. We prefer things to be vague and fuzzy. We prefer a “many paths to God” scenario. But in the end our preferences do not change the reality which the Lord sets before us: we are going to spend eternity either with God or apart from him. There is heaven or there is hell. Tertium non datur (no third way is given). The Lord chooses to finish this sermon with an urgent call: Either come to know me by faith and let me transform you or be unfit to enter the reign of God. You and I must choose.

Let’s look at this Gospel in three stages.

I. The Discipleship that must be seen – The text says, “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. There is a strong tendency in our flesh to be intentional but not actual, and then to think that is enough. It is very easy for our flesh to make commitments but then not keep them. To be verbally supportive, but not be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be actually supportive. And too often we tell ourselves that this is enough.

But at some point we have to realize that it is not enough to mean well. We actually have to do well. Scripture says elsewhere: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18).

To illustrate another way, if you give me directions to get to your home, I actually have to follow them to get there. I cannot, a certain intersection, say, “Well I don’t feel like turning here,” and then think I am going to arrive at your home. Likewise, I cannot be negligent in the details, just breezing through intersections and only half paying attention, and think I will arrive at the destination. I have to actually follow the directions. Vaguely following them is not enough, and explicitly ignoring or violating them will send me to the wrong end of town. Now, God has told us how to get home to heaven. Yet too often we want to think that we can carelessly navigate through life and still end up at the proper destination. Others think that they can outright disobey one or more of the directions and still get home. It just doesn’t work that way. The only way home is to obey the directions given us.

It is true that the Lord allows us U-turns and permits us, when we get lost, to make a cell phone call (repentance and confession) to clarify directions and redirect. But in the end, the critical point is, we simply have to obey. There is just no other way. Saying Jesus is Lord is not enough. He actually has to be Lord. The term “Lord” refers to one who has authority, who has ownership. And so Jesus says elsewhere: Why do you call me “Lord” and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46). The Lord wants to be clear with us: it is simply not possible to enter the kingdom of heaven unless we obey.

Our flesh wants to water this down and think that merely intending to obey, merely meaning well and having positive thoughts about God is enough, or that following some of the time, or most of the time is enough. It is not. Obedience, actually following the directions is also necessary.

Only Jesus himself perfectly obeys the Father. That is why it is necessary for us to allow Jesus to live his life in us. Only knowing the Lord and allowing him to transform us in the ways he has described in previous weeks will enable us to reach our destination. Only Jesus living in us can bring about saving obedience.

But note, this obedience has to be real. The transformation that Jesus offers us is not an abstraction. It is about a real change in our life. Merely saying I have given my life to the Lord is not salvation. The real proof that we have actually given our life over to God, not just saying we have, is to be actually experiencing the transformation he has promised. This alone can get us home.

Ok, so the Lord is being very clear with us here. Actual obedience is the only way home. There just isn’t any other way.

II. The Disclosure that is sure – The text says: Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ There is a sure and certain Day of Judgment looming for each one of us. Scripture says elsewhere: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). The day is fixed and it is certain when our true disposition with be disclosed. Are we true disciples or just actors? Is Jesus really our Lord or just somewhere on our list of friends? Have we really obeyed or just played fast and easy occasionally “checking off the God-box?”

But here is the key question. Do we know the Lord and does he know us? Notice how Jesus says to them, “I never knew you.” We studied before that to “know” in the Bible almost always means more than mere intellectual knowing. To “know” in biblical terms means to have deep, intimate, personal experience of the thing or person known. Notice how deeply relational knowing is, in this sense. It is one thing to know about God and something far deeper to KNOW God. And Lord invites us to this sort of relationship:

  • * That we know him and are known by him.
  • * That our relationship with him is not merely having some intellectual impression, or a command of certain fact, but rather, that we have a deep experience of him,
  • * That we be in living, conscious contact with him,
  • * That we be in a transformative relationship with him,
  • * That we become increasingly one with him.
  • * That we know him, and allow him to know us.

And thus the Lord declares here to them that he does not know them. That they have not agreed to, or permitted the knowing relationship which is at the heart of heaven, and which would have prepared them for heaven. They insist that they “know” Jesus but their description highlights a mere intellectual knowing and a kind of “using” of the Name of Jesus. They “used” his name but did not really call on His name. They knew of  him but they did not KNOW him. It is very possible for priests, religious and other religious leaders to announce Jesus but not to hear him calling them. Any Christian can fall into this trap. They love to discuss religion but do not really have true faith. They will argue for and about God, but refuse to be transformed by Him. They will consider God, but only on their own terms.

What does it mean to be known by God? In the end, the only way into heaven is to know God and be known by him. To be in a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ that is living and conscious and very real. The evidence of this relationship is not just that we say we have it, but that we are experiencing the real fruits of it. And the fruits of this relationship are what Jesus is offering to do for us and has been describing all along in the Sermon on the Mount:

  1. That we are poor in spirit, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, single-hearted, and peaceful (Mat 5:3-11)
  2. That we are salt and light (Matt 5:13-16)
  3. That we have authority over our anger and are respectful of and reconciled to our brethren (Matt 5:21-26)
  4. That we have authority over our sexuality, have pure minds and hearts, free from lust and sexual exploitation (Matt 5:27-30)
  5. That we love our spouse and family members, are faithful to our marital commitments and hold marriage in high esteem (Matt 5:31-32)
  6. That we are true to our word, faithful to our commitments and speak the truth in love (Matt 5:33-37)
  7. That we feel no need to retaliate and are generous in serving and toward the poor and needy (Matt 5:38-42)
  8. That we love our enemies and persecutors. That we develop a compassion and understanding of the troubled people we meet and want only that which is good for them (Matt 5:43-48)
  9. That we have a deep affection for the heavenly Father and a trusting relationship that drives out fear and anxiety of what others think or what may happen. (Matt 6)

To truly know the Lord Jesus and be in a knowing relationship with him is to experience this sort of transformation and more. Lip service does not yield this sort of radical transformation. Only knowing and being known by the Lord can bring forth this sort of fruit. And only this sort of transformation can make heaven possible for us. Jesus says,

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned…..This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:5-10)

Thus, our obedience, the keeping of the commandments, is a chief sign that we are actually in this transformative relationship that alone can prepare us for heaven. Notice that the keeping of the commandments is the fruit of love, not the cause or it. It is the fruit of our relationship with Jesus, not the cause of it. It is the fruit, of the vine, not the cause of the vine. To remain in Jesus is to know him and be known by him. This alone is the way to heaven. There just isn’t any other way. And the day that will disclose our choice is looming for each of us.

III. The Designation that is Supplied – The text says, Everyone who listens to 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 buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.

A pretty simple parable in essence. Either you are going to be among the wise in heaven or the fools in hell. Either we will listen to Christ and build on the solid rock of his teachings and thus withstand the storm that is coming, or we will foolish refuse to listen and not withstand the coming storm.

Make no mistake, the storm is coming. It will surely come for us on the day of judgment.

But it is also possible to see this parable applied to everyday life. Some people live foolishly. Perhaps it starts when they are young. They goof off in school, get bad grades, join gangs, have an arrest record before 15. Others smoke dope, drink excessively, fornicate and so forth. And before you know it their whole house is close to collapsing: no job, no income, pregnant at 15, full of STDs, addicted, going nowhere. Or divorced, remarried, divorced again, had a baby by a third woman. All their income going to alimony and child support, complicated visitation rights, and one big mess for a life, not anyone’s Father, just some baby’s daddy. Life gets complicated pretty fast when we foolishly indulge in sin! And the storms multiply and the house eventually collapses. A ruined, foolish life already experiencing hell.

But others live wisely. Perhaps as youngsters they studied hard, went to Church, obeyed their elders, learned self-control and were careful about the company they kept. And sure enough, doors opened: College, then a good job. A carefully discerned marriage to one spouse, a marriage marked by fruitfulness and fidelity. In the end their children too were a blessing. Such a life is not trouble free but it is a LOT simpler and the storms are less frequent. And when the storms do come, the house of their life does not collapse for is to set on the solid foundation of God’s teaching. He here is the life of the wise, fruitful and heavenly bound.

In the end, there’s just no other way. Either be wise: know Christ and be known by him, or be a fool. Let Christ find you. Know him and be known by him. Let him transform you and prepare you for heaven. There’s just no other way.

(Clipart credit from Echoinghope.blogspot.com)

8 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    Those who believe the Church isn’t necessary, even unnecessary to belong to her, whether out of truth-seeking, like pluralism, or compassion-giving, like universalism, or some other reason, would do well to meditate on this post in light of Christ’s teachings.

  2. Nick says:

    Also, just to back up this post with some historic insight:

    Judaism once believed itself to be a type of instrument and means of salvation, that it was a community of the saved which all nations were destined to join so that all people might go up to the Temple to worship God. This did not conflict with Judaism’s other once-held belief in eternal damnation. In fact, it was symbolized in the dietary law: Those who committed grave sins (symbolized in the eating of unclean animals) lost salvation (symbolized by the unclean going into tents outside the community) until they repented of their sins (symbolized by the unclean becoming clean again). As any historian will tell you, the symbolism does not do away with the dietary law, nor visa-versa.

    The reason I say “once believed” and “once-held” is because after Christianity began to spread, Judaism began to change – for good and bad reasons. Christianity, though, kept and keeps the beliefs Judaism once held, in piety and in tenet, as the doctrines of the Church, who, as the New Israel, is led by God into all truths. Ergo her doctrines are not human invention, even if they were not all tenets in Judaism, but truths taught by God in Christ – such as the doctrine on the faithful being a royal priesthood. Hence, if you wanna know what Judaism once believed, look to what the Church believes.

    So if you’re looking for the roots of the doctrines of salvation, of the Church being the sacrament (instrument and means) of salvation, and of transformation in Jesus Christ, look no further than Judaism.

    • Nick O'dEmmus says:

      Interesting post, Nick (and Monsignor too, as always!). It’s interesting to think that the Old Testament makes up about 60% of the Catholic Bible (the figure is less for Protestants as they do not accept 7 of the books as canonical which we do). That means the largest part of the Word of God which we have is in common with Jews. Christianity is technically Judaism, as you rightly point out, only a fulfilled form of Judaism, since Christ is the fulfilment of everything the Jews were (and are) anticipating.

  3. Jean says:

    Thanks Msgr.! Just wanted to let you know I print these- so I won’t forget what you said. I’m grateful you take the time to write them.

  4. Fredericka says:

    Msgr. Pope, thank you for your thought-provoking blogs.
    While I like your analogy of following the driving directions in order to arrive at the destination we seek, I think more could be said about “knowing” Christ, as you stated it in your last paragraph. Simply following the rules is not enough; we are called to open our hearts completely to the love of God. His love can only enter in if we make room for Him by emptying ourselves. Then, when we know Love and He knows us, following the “rules” is easier. If I may presume to turn around what is said in John 15:10, if you remain in my love, you will keep my commandments. Our challenge is to develop that transformative relationship where we KNOW and love Christ. Ah, that’s the hard part!

  5. Vijaya says:

    We are works-in-progress and these Words are painful. I know some people who really and truly follow Christ. I try too, but fail so often at even small things that I know I’ll never be good enough … Every year, I am growing in love and obedience, but I could die tomorrow, and I’ll know I didn’t do everything He asked NOW. In the end, I’m relying on God’s mercy to bring me close to Him and keep me with Him.

  6. Dcn. C. J. says:

    Msgr. I too thank you, because I too not only read them but print them and use them as handouts for the RCIA program. Thanks for all your prayerful effort and wise scriptural insight which causes me, and others to come to the aid of our fellow man.

  7. jj says:

    I’m back into my song inspiration. Here are two that came in my spirit when I read this article.

    I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97ccESDbQ9g&feature=related

    There is no other way!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Msw6aXNXL4&feature=related

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