It seems to me that everyone wants a piece of the pie, but not too many people want to do what it takes to get it. They try to cut corners or devise other ways to get at this pie, but in reality these people are only fooling themselves in thinking that they are going to get any of it. Jesus never told us it would be easy to make it to heaven he told us that the road is constricted and the gate is narrow and that those who find it are few (Cf. Mt 7:14). It seems that people around the world scoff at religious leaders telling them to shape up and repent or be denied the fruits of true discipleship. But this has been the history of mankind.
For instance, take a look at the Old Testament books of the prophets. Time and time again God spoke through the prophets of Israel to the people and warned them that if they did not repent of their sins and turn back to obeying God’s laws they would face punishment. Several times the chosen people did not listen. They fell away, rejected God’s message and kept on with their lifestyles. One of the few times a large group of people listened to God were the ones that were not even the chosen people of Israel. The book of Jonah gives us that story.
Book of Jonah
In the book of Jonah the man Jonah himself refuses God’s calling of him to prophesy to the people of Ninevah, the traditional enemy of Israel. Jonah, as legend has it, is thrown overboard from the ship he is on and swallowed by a whale. Eventually he heeds God’s calling and goes to Ninevah. Ninevah was a wicked city that did not worship Yahweh, the god of Israel, and Jonah greatly feared going there. When Jonah prophesied to Ninevah that if it did not repent of its sins that God would destroy it they repented much to the surprise of Jonah. Everyone, from the king to the lowliest and even the animals humbled themselves and God, seeing this, did not destroy them.
But isn’t this how it is? Those open to a conversion experience of the Lord will have one and rejoice, but those that feel they have a special right of passage because they are born into a system take for granted all the opportunities for conversion. That was the message of the story in Jonah. Many of the Jews of that period were vindictive and complacent thinking that because they were God’s chosen people they were the only ones God would protect and have mercy upon. It was an intolerant nationalism which pervades our modern world to this very day.
A Warning of Complacency
Jesus warns us of complacency as well. There is no such thing as going to heaven because you think you deserve it. There is no pick and choose as to which laws of God you should and should not follow. Yes, our God is a god of compassion and love, but he is also a god of justice and reward each of us accordingly. God is a jealous god, but is always there for us if we simply turn to him!
Turning away from sin is to turn from ourselves and put God in the center. At the middle of sin is “I” and making ourselves our first priority is the root of sin. Look at Adam and Eve. Eve took the fruit from the tree because she wanted it. God had strictly forbidden her not to eat it and yet out of her own curiosity she did it regardless. We are warned in 1 John about denying our own sinning. Here I quote 1 John 1:8-10:
“If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Understanding the Proper Authority
We must be willing to acknowledge that we sin against God and our fellow people not only in what we do, but also in what we fail to do. However, God loves us and is here for us if we turn our lives to Him and discern His plan for us. Why do people mock others that have extraordinary faith with love and dependence of God? This is what all Christians are called to! God has always spoken to us through other humans and scared texts. Certain people have been chosen as the true authentication of this divine communication. For Israel it was the priests and the scribes and for Christians today it is the successors of the Apostles, the ones sent out who succeed the ones who witnessed Jesus Christ first hand. If this assured system did not exist, how could we declare which beliefs of being Christian are authentic or not?
Truth is not discerned by opinion of what certain texts say rather it is by people put in the proper authority by God. How many leaders of church groups can authentically retrace their authority on Christian matters back to Christ himself? Only Catholic and Orthodox bishops can! Our bishops have maintained throughout the centuries authentic Christian doctrine only expounding on beliefs already held and reaffirming the principles of our faith. This matter of bishops tracing their authority to Jesus and his Apostles is called apostolic succession. Apostolic succession even has its roots in Scripture at the beginning of the book of Acts (the title “Acts” is short for “Acts of the Apostles”. Cf. Acts 1:15-26). Within that story the remaining 11 Apostles choose another disciple of Jesus to be counted with them ‘ in other words Matthias, the one who was eventually chosen, was put on the same level of authority as the other 11 Apostles themselves. The same phenomenon has happened throughout the centuries as each generation passes the faith to the next.
This is not to say that these people are impeccable about everything that comes out of their mouth, but they do carry much more authority over the Christian faithful in matters of faith and morals. Jesus promised he would protect them and always be with them (Cf. Mt 28:20ff). He also promised that when two or three gather in his name he will be there with them (Cf. Mt 18:20). Jesus is still here protecting his church and with the church when it gathers in his name.
Passed on From Christ
Our Christian faith is something that was passed on from Christ to his disciples and is handed down to us today. Jesus did not say write books and hand out copies of them saying, “Go, interpret this to all nations and bicker amongst yourselves as to the truths of my teachings. The Holy Spirit will be with you affirming your thoughts about my teachings because no matter what you say, even though it is conflicting, it is the truth about me and the gift of salvation I will give to you.”
Instead Jesus prayed for unity (Cf. John 17:11), he taught us our faith by his lips and that it is a way of life not something that is an activity at which to drop off the kids. He taught us that the way is hard. How many times did he tell his disciples that in order to follow Jesus one must carry his own cross, one must give up everything for Jesus? Jesus never said he was going to be popular nor did he say that what is popular is right. He never tells us that being a disciple of Jesus starts with a one time event of accepting him and that the rest of your life will be easy. The rewards of discipleship are not of this world.
St. Paul tells us in his second letter to Timothy that one day people will make up their own doctrines to satisfy themselves and move away from the truth (Cf. 2 Tim. 4:3-4) deviating from the pillar and foundation of truth. He teaches us that these people are only in it for themselves (Cf. 1 Tim. 6:3-4).
A Unified Truth
This is why I write to you so that you may better understand Jesus and reflect upon our global surroundings. If Jesus’ teachings are subjective to each individual then why did he bother coming in the first place? There has to be one unified truth which has its authority from God. Jesus came to teach us to love God first and foremost, to love our fellow humans on this planet as much as we love ourselves (Cf. Mt. 22:37-39) because God shows no partiality (Cf. 2 Chr. 19:7) and he came to die for us so that we may share in the glory of his Father. The only thing Jesus asks you to do is listen to him and to the ones he sent out carrying his message.
For those that do love God first and foremost above all things and love each person as much as they love themselves that piece of the pie that we all crave will be theirs. For God so loved the world that he sent his only son that those who believe in him may have eternal life (Cf. John 3:16).