HOME THOUGHT FROM ‘HOME’ 4

IS THERE ROOM…?

I remember sitting in an outdoor series of benches in Jerusalem, in front of what is called the “Garden Tomb” or “Gordon’s Tomb.”  It is just outside the Damascus Gate, and it was a 19th century attempt to shift attention away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre inside the mediaeval walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.  The argument was, among other things, that this new location was surrounded by rocky formations that looked like skulls and so had to be associated with Golgotha, “place of the skull.”  It was a nice try, but wrong.

No matter:  surely what can be seen at the Garden Tomb is far more what it would have looked like in New Testament times.  And as we were sitting there (I and 2 Franciscan seminarians I’d become friends with), a group of perhaps 15 Japanese women approached, knelt in front of the opening to the tomb, and began to wail and lament.  It went on for perhaps 5-10 minutes, and then they got up and left. It had me thinking of the passage in John’s Gospel about Mary learning form Martha that Jesus had finally come—she quickly got up and headed out of the house.  The Jews there to console the family thought she was going to Lazarus’ tomb to cry.  It’s the same idea.

The preacher there was a Dutch Reformed minister named John van der Hoeven, and he was passionate, eloquent, and fervent.  And I remember so vividly, in response to a question, his stress on the verse from this past weekend’s Gospel:  “Strive to enter the narrow way.”  It was a clear lesson for me that Protestants too understood the necessity for personal commitment and effort in the process of salvation.  Are we saved by grace through faith?  Yes—but it is faith working in love (Ephesians 2:8-10; Galatians 5:6). 

In the Gospel excerpt there is no such thing as guilt (or virtue) “by association,” only by commitment.  It’s not enough that we had Jesus eating and drinking with us, or teaching us—what is our lived response to his words and work? 

There is room in the Kingdom for all kinds of folks:  from east and west, from north and south.  Some, perhaps, will be there who never knew the name of God or Jesus (as Isaiah 66:18-19 hints), but who in fact lived God’s will, in effect striving to enter by the narrow way.

The narrow way involves forgiveness and reconciliation, mercy and loving outreach, generosity and kindness.  The narrow way is what the Jubilee Year of Mercy is all about.  And it is what the Kingdom is all about.