What Does Jesus Mean When He Says to Some, "I Do Not Know You"?

Mother and Daughter praying. by bigbirdz This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Every now and then someone will come past my door and request parish services of some sort. Maybe it’s to plan a wedding, a baptism, or a funeral; maybe it’s for money! And then I look at him or her and say, “Who are you?” (since I don’t recognize the person). “Oh, well Father, you don’t know me but my grandmother goes here; this is our family Church.” “Oh, I see, but where do you go to Church?” I usually ask.  The response is usually something like, “Well, you know how it is Father, I don’t get to Church too often … but my mother goes here.”

Well, I’ve got news for you: your Mama’s faith isn’t going to save you. You gotta have your own faith. You have to know Jesus for yourself. There are some things you just can’t borrow. Once, you depended on your mother and ultimately the Church to announce the True Faith to you. But at some point you have to be able to claim the True Faith as your own. Your mother can’t go to Church for you and she can’t believe for you.

On another occasion, a man came up to me in the parking lot of the local food store and began to talk to me as if we were old friends. Perhaps he saw the puzzled look on my face as I awkwardly wondered if I had ever met him. He was mildly offended and said, “Gosh, don’t you know who I am?” “No,” I admitted with some embarrassment. He went on to explain that his family had been one the “pillar” families who had helped build the Church and that I really ought to know who he was. “Do you come to Mass often?” I asked. “No, but I was there at the last funeral, the one for my grandmother, whom YOU buried. Perhaps you know who I am now!” I said, “No. I certainly knew your grandmother, but I can’t say I know you.” “That really hurts Father, ’cause if it hadn’t a been for my family the Church wouldn’t be there.”

Eventually I got the man to admit that he hadn’t been going to Sunday Mass for over 20 years, from the time he graduated from the parish school, and that his only real attendance was for funerals and a few weddings. “Consider this a dress rehearsal,” I said, humorously but with ironic seriousness. “You may be angry and disappointed that I don’t know you, but it will be a lot worse to hear Jesus say ‘I don’t know you.'”

Indeed, one of the judgment scenarios has Jesus declare that he does not “know” some who seek entrance to heaven:

  • 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?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt 7:22-23)
  • Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers! (Lk 13:23-27)
  • Later the other virgins also came, saying, Lord, lord, open up for us.” But he answered, Truly I say to you, I do not know you.”  Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour (Mat 25:12-13).

We may wonder how the Lord cannot “know” someone. Is he not omniscient?

Here it helps to understand that the “knowing” as understood in Scripture does not have the modern Western notion of simple intellectual knowing. To “know,” in biblical terms, more richly describes knowing through personal experience. Hence it implies an intimacy, a personal experience of another person, thing, or event. Sometimes the Scriptures use “knowing” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse (Gen 4:17,25; lk 1:34 etc).

Hence the Lord, who does not force us to be in an intimate relationship with Him, is indicating in verses like these that some people seeking entry to Heaven (probably more for its pleasures than for its supreme purpose as a marital union with God) have refused His invitation to intimacy. He does not “know” them because they never wanted to be known by Him in any intimate way. They may have known OF Him, and even spoken and taught of Him. But they did not want HIM. They may have used him for their purposes, but Him they did not want. Jesus stands at the door and knocks; He does not barge in and force Himself on anyone.   

Thus, we must personally and individually accept the Lord’s invitation to enter our lives and transform our hearts. We cannot simply say, “My family built the Church,” or “I went to Catholic School,” or “My mother goes there.”

Remember the story of the wise and foolish virgins? (Matt 25:1-13)  They were waiting for the groom (in those days you waited for the groom, nowadays we wait for the bride) to show up for a wedding. Five were wise and brought extra oil for their lamps, while five were foolish and did not not. But the groom delayed his coming and so the foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil.” The wise ones then told the foolish that they could not do this because there was not enough oil for all ten of them.

You see, there are some things you just can’t borrow and some things you just can’t lend. You can’t lend your readiness to meet God to someone else. You can’t borrow someone else’s intimacy with God.

You know what happened in the story. The foolish bridesmaids went off to buy more oil and missed the groom’s arrival and then were not able to enter the wedding feast. In those days, when a wedding feast began, the doors were locked and no one else could enter. When they finally arrived, the groom said that he did not know them. 

The bottom line is that you have to know Jesus for yourself. You can’t borrow your mother’s intimacy, relationship, or readiness. You have to have your own. No one can go to Church for you.  You can’t borrow someone else’s holiness.

There is an Old Gospel hymn that says, “Yes I know Jesus for myself.” It’s not enough to quote the pastor; it’s not enough to say what your mother said. You have to know Him yourself. Do you know Him? I didn’t say, “Do you know about Him.” This is more than intellectual knowing; this is the deep, biblical, experiential knowing. Do you know the Lord Jesus? Have you experienced that He has ministered to you in the Sacraments? Have you heard His voice resounding from the pulpit and in others you meet? Do you know Him? Don’t be satisfied that your mother or grandmother knew Him. You are called to know Him for your very self.

Here are a couple of renditions of the old Gospel classic I mentioned. The first is from the St. James Mass Choir. But then, lo and behold, the second version is sung by a choir from a Polish Girls’ School! See the original and then enjoy a very different version, as the song leaps the Atlantic Ocean and lands in Eastern Europe. What a wonderful world! Despite crossing oceans and cultures, the message remains the same: Yes, I know Jesus for myself.

23 Replies to “What Does Jesus Mean When He Says to Some, "I Do Not Know You"?”

  1. “”The noblest way of possessing a thing is to possess it in an immaterial manner, that is, by possessing its form without its matter. And this is the definition of knowledge.” –St. Thomas Aquinas. Usually, when I quote Aquinas, one can just google the quote to get the citation from the Summa, so I don’t bother giving the citation. This one I got from a book that is quoting Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritae: q.2, a.2.

  2. I often heard it said, God has no grandchildren, only children.

    When you think about it human relationships can be like this too. Some people are so superficial that they never really know or let themselves be known by someone else. They might even be married to someone who doesn’t really know them!!

    Thanks for this insight. It also recalls to mind the Scripture: Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. Matt. 21:31. Maybe the prostitutes and tax collectors were to get into heaven before the Pharisees because they wanted to know and did know Christ, but the Pharisees did not even want to know Him.

    1. They will elbow their way to the front saying “Here I am Lord, remember me?” and in front of all He will say no He doesn’t, and after hearing perhaps the most devastating words any will ever hear, you are cast into outer darkness. It does no good to honor Him with your lips when your heart is far from Him, and how unfortunate not to have ever given Him a drink of cold water, it is by these, through these that one meets Jesus, and he, Him

  3. I have a meditation timer that I set for 30 minutes for my daily prayers. I often tell Jesus this same exact thing. “No one can pray to you for me. No one can have my relationship with you for me”. I also tell him that nobody can take my relationship with him away from me. You have to spend quality time with Jesus just as you do with people. A bond develops. It’s comforting especially during difficult times because you already have the relationship there.

  4. This reminds me of how someone, perhaps Bishop Sheen, used to describe being introduced to Jesus when time gives way to eternity. I don’t remember all the details, but the (somewhat fanciful) story goes when we die, our guardian angel transports us to heaven and we see our family and friends who greet us and pass us onto our patron saints who, in turn, take us to St. Joseph, who takes us to Our Lady, who introduces us to her Son, Who says to us, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard my mother speak of you many, many times.”

    Sometimes, like later on today, I will sit in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, wondering what Jesus thinks. Often I wonder if He thinks, “Well, you’re here. Again (or….Well, look who’s here! It’s been a while). Lots of empty chairs around you. Where’s everyone else?”

    Who knows? You can’t maintain a truly strong and legitimate friendship without spending time with someone. Or Someone.


    1. Follow up: My adoration hour was amazing. I was, simply put, overwhelmed with peaceful rest. More than an hour slipped by and there I was, just resting in the Presence of The Lord.


  5. The topic at hand , of persons being empowered to do things ‘in Your Name ‘ , yet the Lord ‘not knowing ‘ those – has found same as fearsome words …

    God bless you for the article ; might be the prayers of many for the users of the blog that also goes with same , has a better insight , on how God in His graciousness and fidelity , might keep His promises and continue to bestow the power , as mentioned, to do healings and drive out demons … even Sacramental powers , which all baptized have , at varying roles , such as a married couple , who are expected to be faithful to the God given roles , yet can be unfaithful and still not be deprived of the awesome role in partnering with God , to help bring forth the miracle of life ..

    When such areas of rebellion are left unrepentant , would it be that, persons take on more and more of the nature of the enemy , who still holds some left over powers too and uses same , to do its agenda ..

    as when those who have valid Apostolic succession , can take up the priestly and tending roles , in the Name of Jesus , but misuse the role, to keep up the divisions … and so on ..

    http://www.totustuus.com/The%20Cause%20of%20Marital%20Conflicts.pdf – trying to look up more on the verse , happened to come across this site and an article that also would indirectly apply ,

    on how the idolatry of self , can leave one from not being able to know or love God , His ways , thus may be really not being known by The Lord either !

    Thank you and God bless !

    1. If I may add this too , not wanting to be part of the controversy per se , since same is being dealt with as a labor of love , by those entrusted to do so , in The Church ..

      yet … on a topic that matters much in The Church , seemingly very important , esp. to those in Germany and places where in, the evil of rebellion has played such a tremendous role ..

      it is that part where The Lord call Peter ‘Satan ‘ , for ‘ speaking , like humans ‘ !, as though , a good bit of so called ‘humanness ‘ might be all enemy influenced nature ;

      The Church has recognized same in the teachings on original sin ; when it comes to marriages , would it be that , those who have dealt at vast scales , with such enemy influenced natures , in spite of being privileged with the call, to be a culture of witness , like Peter , yet , fell back into enemy ways ..that they recognize , thus have more determination even , at one level ,
      that the problems and roots that one is dealing with are complex at one level ..if there are many , who entered into the Sacrament of Matrimony as ‘humans ‘ and if so , what is the righteous approach ..

      Hopefully , such insights and light of truth would help to protect and prevent much , in the future !

      May The Lord , in His mercy , help all , to know and be known by Him !

      1. This too – hopefully , that incident with Peter and related verse might be also or even esp. meant for those who spread the heresy of God The Father having been a human at one time ( unsure if Mormons still uphold same ) and for those who deny the divinity of The Lord such as in Islam , may be for all , who advocate the easy route that diverts, in doing away with all forms of idolatry , the call to take on more of the Divine nature , in efforts to know and follow His mind and Heart , revealed best in the teachings of The Church !

  6. Means also that once you come of age or after being confirmed, it is up to you to begin to get to know the Lord.

  7. This is way up there (top five, perhaps?), probably the most timely, practical and straightforward post ever!!!! Love it. Father, you have such a way of expression! Thank you for bringing up this subject.

  8. There are those who look to the “old days” with nostalgia and longing, but I wonder if the stories you tell in this reflection do not capture the manner in which the “old days” honored that which was rote and external. Though much grumbling takes place today, I wonder if we are not headed to a more mystical and intimate faith as a result of reflections like yours and the theology of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which is slowly seeping into the mind of the Church.

  9. Great blog- I am a Catholic convert and I attended a Christian music festival with my college aged daughter this weekend called Winter Jam. My daughter was raised Methodist as I am a recent convert. The preacher for the show, Tony Nolan, preached on these very verses during a sermon called GASP which is what the response will be for those “Christians” who state they know the Lord but they don’t have a real relationship with him. Pastor Nolan also wrote a book called GASP! which I highly recommend as it is a short and entertaining considering the subject read. Anyway, be it Catholic or Evangelical- there will always be those who believe they are shoe ins even though they do not practice their faith and really try to know, love, and serve Our Lord. Thank you Monsignor for confirmation of this powerful message that we need to get out there- I always enjoy your blogs and share them often!

  10. I sometimes say to people, when they are going through a difficult moment, that I will pray for them. But I’m starting to wonder if it doesn’t make them feel free from having to pray also for themselves. Someone once told me that he beleived God would listen more to my prayer and that his own prayer doesn’t seem to be listened to by the Lord. I didn’t have time to say much to him in return. But I’ve noticed that these people often say they have faith God but they are not practicing catholics. Maybe they think their mom’s prayers will save them.
    Thank you Monsignor.

    1. Better yet, suggest that you pray together on the matter. Faith is not acquired in a vacuum.

  11. Just for arguments sake, Heidi and Claire L., how would you feel if God put you on a timer, or would refuse to take the time to answer your questions? Where would your faith be then?

    I am reminded that St. Paul extorted everybody to “pray constantly”, not simply 30 minutes at a time, and always take the time to help your neighbor without fear as did The Good Samaritan, as reported by St. Luke. It gives me pause to realize that in these times hurriedness seems to be the number one priority in our culture. Instead we should be looking to the Lord constantly, rather than what’s next on our personal agendas. Maybe that’s where taking up ones cross comes into play.

  12. With respect to “knowing Jesus” as a requirement for salvation: Passages in Matthew (25:31-46) and Luke (16:19-31) strongly teach that when we neglect the material needs of our brother or sister, we are neglecting the Lord also.
    But if we don’t pray, or spend time in His presence (Eucharistic Adoration, for example), we are not likely to prioritize the material needs of the poor compared to spending on our own pleasure. A question that I have heard asked: “If you were put on trial for being a follower of Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
    If not, how could you truthfully claim that identity?

  13. The Monsignor makes an excellent point. I have got to many churches where parishioners do not know the name of people sitting beside them and care less. Christ or Mary may be right next to you yet nothing is said.

  14. Lovely meditation as always, Monsignor, but may I point out your analogy doesn’t go far enough?

    “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”

    Jesus is turning away someone who was prophesying and doing miracles. Does anyone else find that disturbing? Like it’s not enough that we go to Church and partake of sacraments weekly and even daily? Were all my prayers in vain? And the few “successes” I have that I imagine validate me not enough to ensure that Jesus knows me? I wish it were someone who doesn’t go to church because this is terrifying, frankly.

    Anyways, may I perhaps offer a twist to your analogy. A frequent parishioner who was on all the committees approaches you. You know who they are, but unfortunately they were a major thorn in your side and made your life miserable so in that sense you don’t “know” them. Do you agree? Love your blog!

  15. Doug, your advise to Heidi and me about “praying constantly” probably comes with a very good intention and it is certainly the ideal way of adressing the Lord. I also think that quality time in prayer has it’s place also. Didn’t the Lord Jesus on many occasions go away from the crowds and withdraw to a quiet place to pray to His Father? … just for argument’s sake.

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