Blog & Pastor Letters

The Gulf Between Heaven and Earth

08-11-2019Weekly ReflectionRev. Victor C. Yakubu

Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka's On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century (Image Books, 2013) is a dialogic exchange between then-Cardinal Bergoglio and Argentinian Rabbi Skorka. In this book, both Bergoglio and Skorka express their opinions on different topics affecting Jews and Christians such as God, religion, fundamentalism, politics, the holocaust, and the relationship between Jews and Christians in the story of salvation.

In the 21st century, the dialogue about heaven and earth is still also relevant because the hope of every Christian is to share eternal life with God in heaven. The personal dialogues of now-Pope Francis and the Jewish Rabbi give us an understanding of what Jews and Catholics believe in. Although the fundamental basics could be expressed differently, the core belief systems point to an understanding of a life after this life. A common heritage between Jews and Christian is the bible, a sacred book that contains Jewish historical lifestyle and the story of the messiah. Both respect the Word of God as revealed through the ancient prophets and the work of inspired writers. The pointers in the bible offer us undeniable openings to the realization that earth is temporal while heaven is permanent and eternal.

As Jews and Christians explore the Sacred Scripture, God's plan of salvation is revealed from the beginning of time with creation to the end of time with the second coming. In Jesus, Christians understand the will of the Father to save mankind from their brokenness due to sin, temptation, faithlessness, and evil. During his public ministry, Jesus did not falter in explaining the reward of a righteous life that ends with heaven. The toils of men and women on earth though filled with temptations can end triumphantly on a good note through the negation of evil and the acceptance of godly actions.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus says to us, "Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival." This passage is a warning about what will happen at the end of time when the earthly sojourn of every individual comes to a final stop. The reward of an obedient life is entry into heaven. Therefore, staying vigilant will afford the individual a place of eternal bliss.

The faith of certain men and women in history are exemplary. The illustration of the life of Abraham and Sarah teach us lessons for 21 century Christian living. Abraham obeyed God when he left his hometown in the Chaldeans and journeyed to a land he did not know. He believed in God. Isaac and Jacob were given to Abraham because of his faith to lay the foundation for future prosperity for Abrahamic children. Jews and by extension, Christians, share in that singular action of Abraham, when he listened to the voice of God and decided to obey him without complaining. The writer of the Book of Hebrews describes faith as "the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." Through this process, the ancients were tested by their faith in Yahweh and Abraham is a classic example of total obedience.

From Abraham, the promise extended to Sarah his wife when she believed in God's promise for a child even in her old age. The birth of Isaac brought her joy and removed the shame of barrenness. It is through her son Isaac that God decided to fulfill future promises and make the lineage of Abraham as numerous as the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky. The Jews express this belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Looking at the position of faith in the 21st century makes the Church's duty of proclamation an urgent question. The gulf between faith and action is as wide as the gap between heaven and earth. The only approach that closes the gap is for men and women to return to the true practice of the faith. In the Jewish faith, there is an expression of incorporating the divine into the reality of human life rekindled by ancient texts. In the Christian faith, hope is renewed with the words of Jesus. In the parable of the wedding feast Jesus encourages us to stay awake for the master's return, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." Love for the things of heaven prepare us for that eternal life with God. The preparation for the eternal reward is determined by the connection of the heart to the revelations of Jesus about the Father and his expectations.

Nothing can hold back the reality of the end times as explained by Jesus in his parables and we must stay awake expecting the beginning of a divine process like the ancient Passover. During the Passover night, the Jews awaited their freedom and the destruction of their enemies. The first reading says, "Your people awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes." And indeed, their foes perished in the waters of the exodus while the children of Israel continued their journey to the Promised Land.

In the 21st century, the gulf between faith and action or heaven and earth need new definitions. The book On Heaven and Earth by now-Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka is an answer to that quest. The two prisms of Judaism and Christianity offer us a convergent pathway. We need to grasp the concept of human finality and then bridge the pitfalls of disbelieve orchestrated by our faithlessness in a faithless generation. Whether heaven exists is not a question that should dominate any dialogue. Rather, the dialogue should be about how to make heaven a reality at the end of age for Jews, Christians, and unbelievers. Hope always means staying awake. Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka have given us a modern example of working together for an eternal reward. Can we develop a blueprint for our personal salvation at the end of age? Keep praying!