No one enters the presence of God except by God’s grace

The New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine has told a particular story so often that I can hardly get it wrong, but you need to know that she is Jewish in order to appreciate it. Here is how it goes. When someone asks her for her interpretation of John 14:6, she says that she imagines herself at the pearly gates after a long and happy life. While she is waiting in line with everyone else to see whether St. Peter will let her into heaven, she makes a list of everything she wanted to ask him while she was still in the classroom. “Can you speak Greek? Where did you go when you wandered off in the middle of Acts? What happened to your wife?”

When it is finally her turn to talk to Peter, she starts pelting him with so many questions that he just waves her through. This concerns the next person in line, who has heard of Dr. Levine and knows she is a Jew. “Excuse me,” the guy says to St. Peter, “but I don’t think she’s supposed to be here.” That is when Jesus sticks his head through the gates and says, “It’s fine, Peter. I know her, and she’s okay by me.” Get it? “No one comes to the Father but by me, and she’s okay by me.” Levine’s point is that no one enters the presence of God except by God’s grace. No church, no church doctrine, no individual gets to referee that. Where the Way of Jesus is concerned, he is the Decider.

– from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne