What is the path to the kingdom of heaven?

February 26, 2021

Ezekiel 18:21–28 | Matthew 5:20–26 | Psalm 130

My spaghetti comes in a box. (I hope you intrepid souls who make your own pasta will bear with my analogy.) When my spaghetti comes out of the box, it is rigid. It is dry. It is easily broken. It gathers in obsessively ordered and precisely regimented rows. Every strand is identical to every other strand. But when I immerse it in boiling water…well, you know what happens. Sometimes my thoughts are spaghetti in a box: dry and rigid. “That’s what I was taught, so that’s the way it is!” Then they hit the boiling water of another way of thinking and become a roiling and tangled jumble.

Thus it is with today’s readings. My early Calvinist background taught me predestination. That’s a whole box of spaghetti which fortunately was boiled long ago, but still comprises some strands of my thinking. Partner the old strands with those from the readings for today, and I have a theological tangle. What is the path to the kingdom of heaven?

Ezekiel tells us that the wicked may save themselves by turning away from their sins and doing what is lawful and right. On the other hand, the righteous who turn from righteousness and commit iniquity shall die. Ouch! If I start out wicked and turn righteous, I’m okay; but if I start out righteous and become wicked, I’m not? What about the thinking that we are not as good as the best things we have done, nor as bad as the worst things we have done? What about the thinking that our misdeeds do not define us – nor for that matter do our good deeds?

Then in Matthew Jesus tells us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven; though from later chapters in Matthew, that might be setting the bar pretty low. Our thoughts and feelings are as culpable as our actions. Anger or vindictive thoughts will make us liable to judgement unless we are reconciled to those we have hurt. So if I even think evil thoughts, without reconciliation I am doomed. I’ve never committed murder, but I’ve certainly been angry. I’ve never intentionally physically harmed another person, though I know my unfiltered spoken thoughts have stung on many occasions.

What is the path to the kingdom of heaven? Calvinism offers predestination. Ezekiel offers repentance. Jesus offers reconciliation. Psalm 130 offers redemption: “O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy. With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.”

I think I prefer repentance, reconciliation, and redemption, three twirled strands, to feed me through Lent. Isn’t that what Lent is all about? Now if only it were as easy as savoring a plate of spaghetti…well that’s a dilemma for wiser and more learned minds to untangle.

Sally House