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