“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21-23
In this season of celebration and fear, this difficult chapter from the New Testament beckons us with many warnings.
It warns against turning religion into identity. We “are” neither Christians nor Muslims nor any other religion for that matter. We are humans with an urge to religiosity that calls us to actions of great mercy and terrible cruelty.
It alerts us to the dangers of public piety, its many base uses, and its varied faces. There is the young Senator, who professes his religiosity to garner votes and bash enemies. There is the aging monarch, with shoe black in his beard and hair, who claims to be a “guardian” of holy places, as if God needs shelter in habitat guarded by humans.
It points us to justice as the way to discern what is right. We can not miss the harshness in Jesus’ voice when he denounces those who are unjust in the name of God. He denies them and exiles them.
It calls us to honesty, especially when dealing with painful realities. Jesus is particularly harsh on “Hypocrites”, those with words and actions that lack transparency of meaning or clarity of purpose. Anyone who attacks, or defends, can do well by heeding a simple advice “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” 7:5.
The defense of those who are few among us does not require complex arguments or utilitarian purposes. It is rather simple. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” 7:12
It inspires dread as Jesus’ words turn violent. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” 7:19-20
It provides gentle hope for those who are confused, displaced or simply fearful. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” 7:7
A few things to keep in mind in this time of celebration and loathing.
— Maged Atiya