There’s an entertaining medley of Pearly Gate jokes, full of humour because what the newcomer is greeted with on meeting the mythical gatekeeper of heaven is not what they or we are expecting.
For Jesus this after-death moment of meeting is no joke. It’s a serious business, a life-death encounter, and Jesus doesn’t mince his words choosing the dramatic sheep and goats drafting-gate parable to make his challenging point.
It’s most commonly thought that the admittance-to-heaven questions will test whether on earth we kept the commandments and went to church, but Jesus focus is somewhere else:
“He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Matthew 25
Well done to those who manage these love-of-neighbour actions at least much of the time. But note that Jesus is making the point that the warmest welcome to the eternal life we are created for is not just for those who care for others, but to those who appreciate the fact that Christian faith is about living in relationship with Jesus in every person, in every situation.
Jesus is not speaking of the hungry or homeless as the nameless poor. He gives them HIS name: “When I was hungry…when I was thirsty…when I was sick and in prison
Our faith is about relationship, not just disinterested generosity, but relationship with the one who is Jesus in our midst.
The citizen of heaven will live on earth knowing that Jesus is encountered IN earthly relationship with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the homeless and the prisoner.
And while we are on the topic of last judgement I realise that every time I fail to recognise Jesus alive and present in those I meet during a day, I am saying no to eternal life not only after my death, but in the reign of God here on earth.
In short, it’s all about relationship with Jesus encountered in today’s people and circumstances.
It’s all about relationship.