It’s amazing how differently we hear things depending on our emotional and intellectual investments. Sometimes when counseling couples, I actually see words changing meaning in the air between one partner’s lips and the other’s ears. It’s all about what we’re prepared to understand. We hear what we’re prepared to hear. It’s the same with scripture.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that not everyone who calls out, “Lord, Lord, we’ve prophesied and done miracles in your name,” will enter the kingdom of heaven. And to put a really fine point on it, he finishes with: “I never knew you: depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” Focused on afterlife as reward, and accomplishment and performance as the prerequisite for God’s favor, we immediately hear Jesus talking about our day of judgment with God—heaven or hell. But final and permanent damnation based on a principle we may have not even understood? That would violate everything Jesus lives out and says about the nature of God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness. Whatever this saying means, it’s not that.
To know in Hebrew/Aramaic doesn’t mean understanding facts. God knowing us, we knowing God, is about intimate experience, as only long time together without defense or pretense can create. Jesus is telling us that our investment in accomplishment and grandiosity is the opposite of and blockage to the intimacy that changes us from the inside out—the knowing of one thing: the allness of God’s love.
Until we intimately know that love, nothing Jesus says will make sense.
This saying isn’t about the afterlife and final judgment of God at all. Jesus’ kingdom is always here and now, and we are crying Lord, Lord, each and every day we desire to experience the fulfillment Jesus calls kingdom. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness is a direct quote from Psalm 6, but there, David tells us that those confronted with their dysfunction turn from their lawlessness, literally repent. Jesus isn’t judging here. He’s confronting.
Trying to help us change direction and repent our way back into the intimacy of kingdom.