Who’s In and Who’s Out of God’s Inner Circle?

All the New Year punditry on “What/Who is In or Out invites the seeker to wonder: “Who’s going to be in and who’s going to be left out of God’s inner circle?” Is there really going to be a place for a person who “sinned boldly that grace may abound” alongside one who led an exemplary life? The Gospel gives us reason to believe that salvation can come to anyone at any time, regardless of the depth of one’s accumulated sins or virtues. How else are we to explain Jesus promise to one of the two criminals with whom he was crucified “… today you will be with me in paradise.”?

To be sure, most Christians believe that no miracle is too great for Christ – even the redemption of an evil soul. But what happens to that belief when a real world example comes before us? How many of us really believe that one can lead a life of heinous crime or sin (think Hitler), use a deathbed confession to broker a deal with God, and be allowed to share equally in the blessing of paradise with a faithful servant of God (think Mother Teresa)?

A meditation lesson includes this parable (edited): God had an opening for a new soul in His inner circle so He sent an angel to earth to find a worthy candidate. Two seekers of God stood out because they represented opposite ends of the virtue scale. One was an ascetic who had spent his nearly 80 years in devotion – fasting, praying and meditating. The other was a lazy young man who was having difficulty building a fence because he was drunk. The angel observed the drunken young man call on the Lord to help him out. When he got no results from his plea, the young man began cursing and threatening God.

The angel returned to God with his stories, assuming that God would send him back to tell the old devotee the good news. Instead, God laughed at the story of the young man. He instructed the angel to return and give each this statement: “I gave the Lord of the Universe a message about you, but He is very busy now, passing millions of elephants through the eye of a needle. When he gets through doing this, He will visit you.” The angel first went to the aged devotee, who responded with grief, disbelief and rage, “Whoever heard of passing an elephant through the eye of a needle? What this means is He’ll never come. I’ve wasted my life.” The angel was heartbroken by the response, but he went on to the young man, still drunk, still unable to accomplish his task, still cursing God. When the angel gave him God’s message, the young man surprised the angel by dancing with joy. The young man chanted, “He who can send worlds through the eye of a needle in an instant if He desires, has already finished passing those elephants through the eye of a needle. Any minute, He will be with me, and when He comes I shall change. All my evil actions and bad habits will be drowned in my overwhelming love for Him.”

God’s justice and promise is confounding even to Christians who know all the “first shall be last and the last shall be first” parables. With justice so contrary to our own, we ask, “Why should we devote ourselves to a long life of serving God and others, of denying ourselves pleasures or material blessings when we could easily defer salvation until the nth hour?” Some say that every mortal moment spent in being the Christ to others or in devotion to God is a moment spent in eternal paradise. What do you believe?

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