Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ – Matthew 7:21-23
I have been waiting to write on this passage for some time. This one is heavy. I have written some reflections on topics such as the discernment of fruit and false shepherds, and this passage from Matthew is another part of the greater vision that stresses the importance of interior renewal.
I wrote on the discernment of fruit for one reason: we are at a point where many are claiming to have good fruit. The concern for me is, how do we know that this fruit is good? If someone can perform a miracle such as healing, prophesy, or drive out demons in the name of Jesus Christ, does that automatically make it a good fruit? What every Christian in the world seems to be saying is yes, that is good fruit; however, this passage provides a clear warning. Even though one can do all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, they can be still evildoers and will not enter into the kingdom. Jesus Christ makes it clear: the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven will enter the kingdom not simply the one who does great works in His name. Some of us all will be called to do great works but that must be the will of the Father, not ours.
One of the greatest challenges to unity for Catholics and even all Christians, is partly revealed in this passage. We as humans have a very finite understanding of what it means to do the will of the Father. Very finite. Aside from that, we can very easily mistake something to be good fruit without much thought as to what makes that fruit good. Let us examine this further. What I see predominately is that we are content in defining good fruit as something temporal that is visbily improved or increased. For example, suppose we wanted to start a new parish program in order to increase church membership, engagement and donations. The following program is run at the church with great success. What are the outcomes of the program? Increase in church membership, engagement and donations. Most would conclude that the program is bearing good fruit and the will of the Lord is being done. But is this good fruit?
Defining good fruit is a lost art and one that is only truly established as one grows in their relationship with God and strives for divine union. The further we are away from God, the larger the gray area between black and white. As we grow closer to God, this gray area decreases and we can start to better see the distinction from black and white. Even those who did great miracles, who mostly likely assumed their fruit was good, were told by Jesus Christ that they were evildoers. This should be a concern for us and something we need to be mindful of! There is a reason that St. John of the Cross always advises us to take the most difficult, driest, hardest, least appealing, painful paths in life: to go down these paths and to still desire union with God is a testament of the true motives of the soul. If we go down this most difficult path, we can be sure that our wills are not superimposed over God’s will. Although in fair warning, we can also be deceived in this path if we are not careful.
We may like to assume that God’s will for us is to perform great miracles and wonders in His name, but who are we to assume what God’s will is for us? Is it not better for Him to decide what His will is for us? In the first case our own pride gets in the way in our ambitions to do great things for God and perhaps this will bear only evil fruit in the long run.
Jesus Christ is very clear: those who do the WILL of the Father will enter the kingdom not necessarily those who do great works. This includes casting out demons, miracles and prophesying! The warning I see from the Lord is that we must strive to do the will of the Father, not the miracles of the Father. He will do that through us as needed in order to fulfill His will and calls some to do these works as we see in the lives of so many saints. However, it is a very risky thing to seek and perform the great works of the Lord without being aligned with His will. There is a priority here and Jesus Christ is giving us guidance. This is very similar to the priority of the interior life over the active life. The interior life ALWAYS takes precedent over the active life. Once this priority is set and lived by, we can cautiously do active works as these works are likely aligned to the will of the Father.
This is a barrier that I do not think will be overcome easily, perhaps ever. So as long as people do not question the fruit they see, they will be like those in this passage of Matthew that I quoted in the beginning. Let us not do as they do. Let us seek to do the will of the Father first, and from there we will do everything safely according to His will, not ours.
St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church, pray for us!