Life isn’t fair. The people of (in!) the Bible figured this out. Yes, they yearned for the rewarding of good and the punishment of evil. (Who, save those who do evil, doesn’t?)
Yet they discovered that it doesn’t always or often work that way.
Hence, they conceived of a day of reckoning at the end of human history when everything would be set right. This belief in the time of final judgment is reflected in Jesus’ telling phrase, “On that day.”(1)
Interpreting Jesus’ teaching, I hear his admonition about what we cannot, indeed, what we must never do and an encouragement about what we can, indeed, what we must always do.
The admonition? No one can make judgments for others. Ever. As only Jesus can say, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter heaven, but only the one who does God’s will,” I dare not (and I can’t) tell you either what God’s will is for you or whether you are (or are not) doing God’s will.
The encouragement? Each of us, through study and prayer, question and reflection, both individually and in community (for no one person possesses all truth), is called to discern (that is, come to know) God’s will, and then to decide to do what we each have discerned.
For Jesus doesn’t define God’s will. Rather he describes it. After declaring that doing God’s will is what matters, he elaborates, saying, “Everyone who hears my words and does them will be like…” and telling us a story about prudent house-building.(2)
So, regarding God’s will, you and I, in the concrete circumstances of our daily living, get to figure it out for ourselves.
I can imagine Jesus asking: “Have I made myself clear?” with the only acceptable answer being…
Well, how do you answer?
(1) 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; my emphasis)
(2) Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7.24-27)
Justitia (or Lady Justice), Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong. Note: Would that this image of Justitia, Roman mythology’s goddess of justice – with her balanced scales of strict fairness, her blindfold of impartiality, and sword of discerning authority – represent the way things are in the world. However…
Lady Justice unblindfolded (with unbalanced scales), symbolic of the worldly rendering of judgment tempered by the personal preferences and prejudices of the arbitrator, therefore, injustice, is as oft as not the truth of life’s experience.