Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers’” (Matthew 7.21-23)
Jesus seems (sounds!) to me to be speaking, in contemporary politico-religious terms, as a right-wing conservative fundamentalist. His language is without nuance and devoid of all (any) uncertainty. The deference of addressing Jesus with reverential titles won’t grant entry into God’s kingdom. Moreover, good, even powerful deeds done in his name won’t be enough. The only thing that matters is doing God’s will.
As I reflect on the whole of the biblical gospel accounts, I perceive Jesus to be the personification of an ever-welcoming, all-embracing unconditional love. Why then would Jesus be (how could Jesus be!) so restrictively, exclusively either-or?
However, on immediate second thought, his words are consistent, quite, with things he’d already said about the narrow gate of entry into the kingdom(1) and about false prophets and bad fruit.(2) So, as there are good and bad gates and good and bad fruits, there are good people who do God’s will and bad people who don’t.
I can imagine Jesus asking (with “Yes” being the only acceptable response): “Have I made myself clear?”
So, in our day and time rife with the relativism that views knowledge and truth in relation to specific historical and cultural contexts, thus, never absolute, how do we, how can we interpret Jesus’ words?
(1) Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7.13-14)
(2) Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits…In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7.15-16a, 17)