I tell you, I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this. I assure you that many will come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven. But those who should be in the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness, where they will cry and gnash their teeth.
Go home, and what you believe will be done for you.
[A Roman soldier begs Jesus to heal his suffering servant. Jesus offers to go and heal the servant, but the Roman officer expresses his faith that Jesus can heal the man without actually going to his house. Jesus affirms the Roman soldier with these words].
Today, as in the time of Jesus, people like to speculate about what happens to us after we die. Jews and Christians both believe that life continues after death. Both believe in some kind of heaven and some kind of hell. When it comes to heaven the real debate is always about who’s in and who’s out.
What can we infer about heaven from this scripture? This reference Jesus uses about a feast in the kingdom of heaven is not a traditional Jewish one; it’s kind of fun that Jesus says heaven will have lots of good food. It confirms that Jesus thinks the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God), the one we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, is like a big party. (See Day 43).
We also learn that he believes that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in heaven. Why them? Abraham was the first Jew; Isaac was his son; Jacob was his grandson and the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Collectively they are referred to as the Three Patriarchs of Judaism. The founders of the faith. The ultimate Jewish VIPs.
Today most Jews agree that anyone can get into heaven; it’s totally up to God’s discretion. (see http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm). However, back in Jesus’ time the Jews believed that getting into heaven was one of the privileges reserved for the “chosen people”, the descendants of Abraham. The Jews believed that they had special status in the eyes and heart of God. It seems that people have always preferred to believe that heaven is an exclusive club reserved for a particular group of people. They like to draw a circle around those whom they feel are qualified, with themselves right smack in the center of the circle.
Similarly many of today’s Christians firmly believe that they are the only ones who will get into heaven. They draw the circle of chosen people around themselves and like-minded folks. They are often outraged that sub-groups of Christians, like Roman Catholics, draw an even smaller circle around themselves. This is a source of a lot of contention in the Christian community. (Yawn.)
In this scripture Jesus widens the conventional circle of his day considerably by putting a Roman soldier, an enemy of the Jews, right there in heaven with the three Jewish Patriarchs. He not only opens the door of heaven for the soldier, he closes it to those who think that they will be able to follow the Jewish patriarchs into heaven just because they are Jewish. Jesus says “No entitlements.” This would have been shocking to the Jews. A pagan Roman in heaven? An enemy of the Jews in heaven? Never!! What good does it do to be a “chosen people” if you can’t get a guaranteed seat in heaven?
Why does Jesus say the Roman will get into heaven? Is it because of the soldier’s love for his servant? No, it’s because of the soldier’s extraordinary faith that his servant can be healed! The soldier is unwilling to settle for a world where his servant has to suffer. He believes that the God of the Jews can make things right. He believes that the Kingdom of God can manifest itself right then and there. He believes that Jesus can end the suffering of his servant simply by commanding it to happen. He has hope and believes that God can turn the darkness of illness into the light of health. Jesus is very impressed and points out that Jews are not the only ones who can have faith in God. He then justifies the man’s faith by healing the servant just like the soldier requested. He teaches that faith is more important to God than religion or ethnicity.
Jesus says in this scripture that those who believe in the Kingdom of God get to live in it. The Roman doesn’t resign himself to living in a world of suffering. He wants more. He believes that there can be more. So he gets in. It’s a faith thing.
I saw a woman of faith the other day on the television show 60 Minutes. Her name is Zhang Xin and she is not a Christian. She is a major real estate developer in China. She is a visionary and an idealist. She wants to see all the people of China live in prosperity and freedom. She is unwilling to accept the status quo in China and wants to see things change for the better.
At one point in the interview, this beautiful powerful woman looked straight at the camera and said, “Please pray for democracy in China.” She believes that God will do it if we ask him. She believes that God can make the people of China free.
Jesus says that religion must be spiritually based because God is spirit. He is telling us that our connection with God is not based on our birthright or our degree of success in achieving obedience to the Law. Those are things of this earth. God’s spirit abounds in those who believe in the essential primacy of the spiritual world over the physical one. This transcendent faith, this spark, this vision, this optimism, this eternal hope is evidence of a mature understanding of God and his Kingdom. To dine in God’s Kingdom you must have faith in it, you must believe.
I believe that there are many Christians who, despite a professed belief in God and his kingdom, have a negative world view. They seem resigned that things “are the way they are” and will never change. They don’t believe that God is alive and active in the world and they have given up on it. Nevertheless they believe they will go to heaven where everything has been perfected for them, simply because they joined a church group and adhered to its doctrines. On the basis of this scripture Jesus might say that those Christians will be surprised to see Zhang Xin sitting at the feast in heaven with the Jewish patriarchs simply because she has faith that God is willing and able to change the world for the better if we only ask. I think Jesus is just expanding on what he said in the Beatitudes – “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!” (See Day 12).
I don’t think Jesus is condemning anyone in particular to hell in this scripture. He’s just making a point. I personally believe that everyone gets to go to heaven because it would be hard to be happy in heaven knowing that there were those who didn’t make it. I believe that heaven is big enough to accommodate everyone. Maybe if we all have faith that it all works out for everyone, then that’s what will happen. I think our God likes that kind of faith and the Sermon on the Mount says that he doesn’t mind being asked (See Days 57-58).
What does this scripture say to you?