Christian in Name Only
William Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke describes a fictional story concerning a surprise one might encounter upon entering into heaven. The story starts by introducing a woman who had great wealth and status during her life on earth. When she finally died she was met at the gates of heaven by an angel who told her it was his job to take her to her new home in heaven. Excited and thinking her new home would be more luxurious than her former, she gleefully went along with the angel.
They both passed by one huge and beautiful mansion after another. Her heart raced at the thought of living for all eternity in such a magnificent place. Her homes on earth had been impressive, but these in heaven were without compare.
Their journey worn on, and the houses started to get smaller and smaller. Finally, in the farthest outskirts of heaven the woman and the angel came to a house which was little more than a hut. The angel announced, “This is your house.”
The woman exclaimed, “I cannot live in that shack! ““I’m sorry” replied the angel, “but that is all we could build you with the materials you sent up throughout your life. Perhaps, you left too much down on earth.” The woman in our story assuredly thought by being a member of the Christian ‘club’ was enough for her to gain everything she desired in the life to come. What she didn’t realize is the gate of heaven can be quite narrow.
St. Luke mentions the theme as Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. The road will ultimately end at Calvary and his death. Each step closer to his death his message grows in urgency directed to his followers. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying,’ Lord, open the door for us. ‘He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.”
It would seem that we should not take this compelling message without notice. It is very possible that some people will choose not to be saved by the way they have conducted their lives; how awful a thought to imagine. But what about those whose lives are not quite as bad, what about them, what about us? We might, like the woman who was relegated to the small hut in heaven, may be in for quite a surprise, for the gate is very narrow.
It is enough just be to a member of the club by calling yourself a Christian and do little to strengthen that identity. You may be a ‘cradle Catholic’ or raised in a Christian household but your past doesn’t remotely reflect how you live today. You may have embraced the mob culture’s morals and now live by its lax and perverted rules, such as those who call themselves Pro-Choice Catholics and Christians.
But notice, even those who have accepted immoral lifestyles are still quick to describe themselves as Catholic or Christian. The gate is indeed narrow and by just by identifying ourselves as a Christian is not enough. Lives must be lived daily in accordance with the Gospel to reflect that exalted title. Without doing so the term Christian is nothing more than just a word.
As mentioned earlier, the Gospel says Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem to do one thing, to suffer and die for the sins of many. It is not enough for God to send his Son to into the world, he had to complete his mission. It isn’t enough for Jesus to be the best homilist the world has ever seen when he proclaimed the Word of God, he had to suffer. It isn’t enough for Jesus to be the most excellent social worker when he was attentive to the poor and downcast, he must have been mocked. It isn’t enough for Jesus to be the most effect physician and release people from debilitating diseases, he must have died. No, it isn’t enough, and further, it doesn’t describe the Savior of all humanity.
A Christian can only define Jesus as a Savior and a God-man who willingly went to his death for your transgressions. An act of discipline and pure obedience which destroys death forever. If we choose to be saved, or said in another way, be freed from the hopelessness of death, we must follow Jesus very closely on his journey to Jerusalem and not think of him in the way we would like him to be. We accompany Jesus only when we live the way he taught us to live, the true definition of the term, Christian.
By accompanying Jesus on the road means specifically we are joined to Christ by our actions. We do need to be solicitous of the poor; we do need to take care of the infirmed; we do need to visit those in prisons; we do need to proclaim the Gospel of life and truth to the world. Most of all we must be convinced our own sufferings have meaning as St. Paul describes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.”
Following Jesus to Jerusalem means being a true disciple, a discipleship that entails effort instead of entitlement. Do you think you will enter through the narrow gate? You will be if you see yourself as a true disciple of Christ, and not in name only.