Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 17 August 2014 – Who Gets Saved?


20 Sunday Ordinary Time – August 17, 2014 – Who Gets Saved?

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8; Romans 11:13-15,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Last month I was asked to lead prayers at the wake of my cousin’s funeral. She was a 26 year old nurse who was killed in an automobile accident. I was uncertain if she went to church or even practiced any religion. Her long time boyfriend told me, “we never talked about God.”

I do not know if my cousin believed in God but as I read today’s biblical texts the question still lingers with me. The passage from the third part of Isaiah, attributed to a post Exilic prophet, offers some help. Those who maintain justice, love God, become God’s servant, keep the Sabbath and hold to God’s covenant will be brought to the holy mountain, a place we call heaven.

At the end of the passage it says that God’s house is a house for all peoples, everywhere, regardless of background.The author here means that the invitation to salvation is open to everyone. However, we have to ask, if it means you must abide by certain rules or be a member of a certain faith tradition will some people be left out?

In the second reading Paul writes to the Romans saying he was happy in his work — making the Gentiles envious of the Jews so that they would do what it takes to enter salvation. After all God has mercy on all people. But do you have to practice a certain religion?

In the gospel we heard a story about a Canaanite woman who pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter. The Canaanites, we recall, were considered outsiders by the Israelites. Jesus said he couldn’t help her because his job was to save only the lost sheep of Israel. The woman persisted out of love for her daughter. In the end the story shifts our attention away from the miracle and focuses on the Canaanite woman’s faith in Jesus. [1] Her daughter was healed.

So who gets saved? Is faith in God or membership in a particular religion necessary? We have often heard that you have to accept Christ as your savior and be baptized in order to be saved. What about those people who do not talk about God, pray to God, or even believe in God? What will happen to them? If Christianity is the only road to salvation what will happen to our Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu friends? The Catholic church “rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.” [2]

T. M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford, in a recent article made reference to the “boggle threshold” — a concept introduced by British historian Renée Haynes. The boggle threshold is the level above which we cannot comprehend something when faced with some new fact, report or idea.  [3] You know the expression, “it boggles my mind!” 

Often we believe things because we are products of a local culture or religion. For example, we believe in a God who had a human son whom God allows to be killed on a cross. We accept this narrative even though it boggles our minds. And, given all we know about the universe, can we believe in a geographic location called heaven? It boggles the mind.

Lurhmann goes on to suggest that when we start to think about what is plausible and what is not rational we establish our own beliefs and become more confident in them. Further, she writes, once we assert a belief we are then willing to commit to another. One belief builds on another. If God created all of us we wonder then how could that same God not save all of what God created?

Maybe my deceased cousin and her boyfriend never talked about God. I am still not sure if she even believed in God. So, is she saved? Is she in a heavenly place? We may never find answers to these questions. Still they are good questions.

At the wake countless nurses from three counties joined many others in offering sympathy to my cousin’s parents, her siblings and boyfriend. They all said she was a wonderful nurse who cared lovingly for her patients as she did for her family and friends. In the end, maybe that is all that really matters. As the text from Isaiah states, maintain justice, do what is right and salvation will come.


1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. pp. 169-171

2 Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions October 28, 1965, No. 2

3 Luhrmann, TM. “Where Reason Ends and Faith Begins” in The New York Times,  July 26, 2014. 


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

9 thoughts on “Homily – 17 August 2014 – Who Gets Saved?

  1. God is much larger then we can ever imagine. The ultimate source, the first creator. God is also much closer than we sometimes remember….the person in the car in front of us in rush hour, the troublesome family member or coworker who pushes all our buttons. Or even the quiet voice inside our own hearts when we struggle and wonder what we should do.


  2. I can only say I was happy to hear your view regarding who can go Heaven. I always wondered of the command(?) by Jesus that if you believe in Him then you will be welcomed into Heaven. How does that really apply to non-Christians and to people before the common era (aka B.C.) Also I always pictured Jesus with palm on face looking disappointed that a religion was created in his name. His goal I think was not only to be the actual Messiah to the Jews but a prophet of sorts to all.

    So sorry to hear of the loss of your cousin.


  3. We have been away alot this summer and it was great to be back today and hear your wonderful sermon . JESUS SAVES says it all for me thanks ELLEN


  4. Many times, as we think of The Great Spirit, our human being filters the concepts that we have of God. We judge, so God must judge. We are finite, so God must have limits. We become angry, so God must get angry. We forget, so God must not remember us.

    I have no doubt whatsoever, that there is a place for each of us after we leave here. No matter what we believe, I imagine that we pick up our continued growth where we left off. And learn and grow more. We continue our service.

    The Great Spirit, my God and yours, lives beyond our wildest imaginings.

    Peace to all who live in this time.



  5. Thanks for the challenging ideas today. We do feel very complacent at times and forget that there are many whose beliefs are different from ours and who are equally “good” and more likely “better” than we are. As you say, it boggles the mind. I like Ellen’s conclusion “Jesus saves”, and I add, whether or not one is aware of “Jesus”.


  6. We always want to answer questions that cannot be answered conclusively…after all, is that what theology is about? The question you pose strikes at the root of every religious system: do WE have the truth? It is probably more likely that each faith has avital piece of the puzzle that makes up the wondrous relationship of Creator with humanity. Should we ask “will I be saved?” Or rather, “am I in right relationship with the One who creates in love?”


  7. I think this is a thought provoking every Christian always and must ponder regarding salvation. Given my Evangelical background, I was initially pressed with Jesus alone and faith in Jesus is necessary for Salvation.

    But how to explain this to a grieving family/friends of a person who was not religious?

    Rob Bell, a well known evangelical pastor who became controversial writing a book: “Love Wins”, started the book with: Person 1 walks by a portrait of Ghandi. Person 2 says: He’s in hell. Person 1: “how do you know that?” Person 2: He didn’t believe in the Christian God.
    What a thought provoking scenario. Rob Bell became controversial because the book seemed to have “Universalism” Tone…which was heavily frowned upon…especially in the “sola fide” Protestantism Christian world.

    But such a compassionate and caring God can welcome a lost soul, can He not?

    Many Christians will adamantly step their foot and say she isn’t saved if she didn’t confess and given her life up to Jesus Christ.
    I’m not always sure this is the right way to think. They make it sound like God is black and white (at least the ones i talk to). And because of this, Protestant and Catholic dialogue can sometimes be difficult to overcome this hurdle.

    I’m sorry for your lost!



    • I totally agree and it is so sad that there is this hurdle. This is why I am very comfortable at St. Vincent’s. Father Vosko challenges us to think about these questions in the context of what we believe about a compassionate Jesus (God).


  8. I could never believe in or love a God who condemns anyone to eternal hell. I believe that God never gives up on any of us and like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, is always waiting patiently for us to come home, and that we have that chance even after this earthly life is over. I read once that the door of hell is locked from the inside – it is our choice to stay or to leave.


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