Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 11: 16-30: God in Heaven

It is an old story about the man who stopped for directions.  I know, it is already hard to believe, but let’s just say his wife insisted.  They were in New England, trying to get to Kean, New Hampshire.  They came to a crossroads and there was a house and an older gentleman sitting out on his front porch, so they asked.

“Well,” the man said.  “You go straight on until you come to the Ramsey house.  Go left and that will take you into town where you can pick up… no wait.  They are doing construction there.  That won’t work.”  He paused to think.  “Go right here and follow the edge of the lake until you get to the river.  Just after the covered bridge… no wait.  The covered bridge is closed for repairs.  It got flooded out.”  He paused again to pull his beard.  “Go left and you will come to the railroad, and no, that won’t work either.  I tell you what.  Go back the way you came and, no.”  The old man looked at the couple and apologized.  “I’m sorry, folks.  You can’t get there from here.”

When you think about it, God is by necessity and definition, unreachable.  His ways are unsearchable, the psalmist said.  Who can know him?  We all imagine God to be like this or like that, but of course anything we can think or imagine will be limited by our imagination, and by the most simplistic definition God is not limited.  Thus, whatever we think about God in our own mind, feelings, intuitions is necessarily wrong or at best so incomplete it might as well be called wrong.  We cannot imagine things like infinite or eternal or forever and ever.  Our minds are not big enough to really understand such things.

We can get hints of God, perhaps, in the natural world (in creation) but we cannot know God by natural means.  We are like the blind man who does not understand that the grass is green and therefore does not believe it.  Who can define “greenness” for the satisfaction of the blind man?  Who can prove, scientifically or otherwise that this “greenness” is attached to grass?

The obvious, I might say, undeniable truth is God is too high, too beyond, too unfathomable to know.  One philosopher called God “wholly other.”  I think you get the picture.  And as for heaven?  Well, honesty says “We can’t get there from here.”  Certainly not on our own steam.

We may have some sense of purpose or fulfilling work to guide us through our days, but in an existential sense, no one can answer the question “Why am I here?”  We cannot fully know why we are here so how can we possibly know where we are headed?  How much more impossible is it to go from here to there – from Earth to Heaven?  There is no GPS that can recalculate enough to get us there.  There are no maps, no places along the way where we can stop and ask directions.  On our own, we cannot even know which is the way.  We can fool ourselves into believing we have a handle on this, but do we really?  Can we prove it to the satisfaction of the blind man?

Christians, in their better days, have understood this dilemma well.  Every religion and philosophy in history has tried to find a new and better path – the way to heaven (if not god).  Christians have mostly stayed out of the debate.  Why?  Because Christians (and sometimes Muslims and Jews) are the only ones who understand that the only way we can know anything for real and certain about God and Heaven is for God to stoop down and tell us himself.  Christians call this revelation.  Every other or contrary idea about God and Heaven must be the result of the limited imagination of us limited humans.  Can we define “greenness?”  Can we count the stars in the sky?  How then can we know, on our own, anything about God?

Of course, in our worst days, Christians also fall into the trap.  You must believe this doctrine, this dogma, these fundamentals.  You must do these things and keep these rituals to be acceptable to God and heaven.  This is the pit that Islam and Judaism generally fall into, and sometimes Christians.   But in our better days, we understand the only truth we have is what has been revealed to us.  And what has been revealed to us is not doctrine, dogma or ritual.  It is a person.  It is Jesus who said simply, “those who have seen me have seen the father,” and,  “I am the way.” 

When Jesus denounced the cities for their unbelief, it was not for the sake of the miracles.  I had a professor at Princeton who felt strongly that miracles were not a reason to believe in Jesus, and I agree.  But they do serve a purpose.  It was in the dead of night that a few Pharisees came to Jesus with questions.

“We know you are a man of God because no one could do the works you do unless God was with him…”  Then they asked him what he had to say about God and Heaven.  Then they had to decide for themselves whether they believed him or not.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and no one comes to the father but by me.”  He called himself the narrow gate to Heaven, and said wide was the way (and many indeed are the ways of the world’s philosophies and religions) that lead to perdition.  Here he said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Very politically incorrect, I know.  Not at all supportive of cultural diversity and inclusiveness.

Christians understand that what the prophets could only allude to, Jesus showed directly and said plainly.  The Prophets and Apostles could only frame the questions for Jesus to answer.   Jesus, alone is the revealer of God and Heaven.  But how can we know the truth of this?  Jesus said he was the embodiment of the truth.  Do we believe this?

At the risk of coming across as prophetic myself, the truth is a majority of the world does not believe this.  There are millions of Christians by name world-wide who do not believe this.  The primal confession of the church is “Jesus is Lord,” and as I have said many times, this is not a reference to something medieval or even to Jesus as King.  It is an unfortunate translation of King James.  The real confession is “Jesus is God.”  Thus Jesus alone can reveal God. 

But millions of Christians no longer believe this.  They have bought into the politically correct notion that all roads lead to Rome (Heaven).  Jesus said the way is narrow, it is only through him.  But the world has said all ways are equal and equally valid and equally good.  And Jesus might respond, yes, equally good for ways to perdition.  Millions of Christians no longer believe that Jesus is God, the only way to Heaven, the only true revealer of God.  The time is now, already, and getting worse that millions of Christians are falling away from the faith and will leave the community of Christ altogether.  Watch for it.  It is happening already.

C. S. Lewis put it this way: (paraphrased): common sense will tell you that Jesus was either a liar, a madman or who he says he is.  No liar or madman could do the works he did.  He chastised the cities for what he did to reveal himself and they rejected him anyway.  And us?

To reject Jesus is the only unforgiveable thing – it is the only unpardonable sin.  It is to say the Holy Spirit is lying when he says Christ Jesus is the only way to God.  But people who reject Jesus only exclude themselves from grace, freely offered.  To be sure, they believe some other way is just as good.  They might even call that other way “Christianity.”  You see, the day is coming and is already here when the very truth of Christ will be confused and only those truly called by God will be able to find the narrow gate.

The way it works, the narrow gate, is God through Christ, Jesus.  God is merciful, yes, but not compromising.  We cannot reach God or even know anything at all about God except by Christ.  Yes, it really is with Christ, through Christ and in Christ to the glory of the father.  AMEN.

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