Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest
In the Gospel Reading for this day, Christ tells the people, “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.“
On orthodox Christian theology, those who do not enter the kingdom of heaven will find themselves in hell. And so the implication of Christ’s words is that in hell there will be people who have said their prayers and addressed Christ as Lord.
This must be one of the most fearful passages in the New Testament. Who, then, is saved if calling Christ ‘Lord’ is not enough? And what do we have to do to be in the group of the saved?
We might try to answer these questions by thinking of Peter, who is the rock on which the church is built. Christ says that those who enter into heaven are the people who have built their house on a rock. What makes Peter a rock for the church?
The first thing to notice here is that Peter is not a sinless man. If getting into heaven requires doing the will of the Father, then doing the will of the Father can’t be a matter of being righteous. In fact, Peter’s sin is just the same as the sin of Judas, the villain of the Christian story: Peter betrayed Christ in Christ’s hour of need.
Of course, Peter repented his sin. But, then, so did Judas. The difference between Peter and Judas does not lie in their repentance, but in their attitude and relation to Christ after they sinned.
When Judas saw and repented his sin, he killed himself. He threw himself away as hopeless. When Peter saw and repented his sin, he did not let go of Christ. When after his resurrection Christ asked Peter, “Do you love me?”, Peter was willing to say ‘yes’. Both Peter and Judas said ‘Lord’ to Christ. But only Peter really came to Christ. Judas said ‘Lord’ to Christ, but in the end he was unwilling to come to Christ.
And so this is the difference between those who enter the kingdom of heaven and those who don’t, between those who do the will of the Father and those who don’t. Peter came to Christ as he was, not righteous but sinful. And he cleaved to Christ anyway, even with his own failures and errors. Peter is the rock of the church because he built the house of his life on the rock that is Christ.
In John 6:28-40, people anxious not to be excluded from the kingdom of heaven ask Christ what they must do in order to do the will of God. And this is what Christ tells them: they must come to him.
And, Christ adds, no one who comes to him will ever be cast out.
This is a good thought for us to reflect on as we wait for him to come to us in Advent, isn’t it?
Dr. Eleonore Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy.