Today’s Gospel has a very controversial question put to Jesus: “Will only a few be saved?” If this question is put to Jehovah’s Witnesses, they will answer that the saved will number exactly 144,000, quoting the Book of Revelation 7:4 where it records this number as those saved from the tribes of Israel. But Scripture scholars point out that the same Book of Revelation 7:9 speaks about “a great multitude of those saved, whom no one can count.” Hence mainline Christians believe that the number 144,000 is symbolic to indicate the great multitude who will be saved, not to offer a limit on the souls who will be in heaven.
While different religions claim different ways to attain heaven, what do people in general think of the relevance of religion and God? What is the connection between belief in God and morality? And how important are God and prayer in people’s lives? Pew Research Center posed these questions to 38,426 people in 34 countries in 2019.
The result is published in an article interestingly titled: The Global God Divide. Despite variances in religious observance, a median of 62% across the countries surveyed say that religion plays an important role in their lives, while 61% agree that God plays an important role in their lives and 53% say the same about prayer.
This ‘God divide’ is very visible in various regions of the world. Of all 13 countries surveyed in the European Union, Greece has the largest share of residents who tie belief in God to morality (53%), followed closely by Bulgaria (50%) and Slovakia (45%), while just 9% in Sweden, 14% in the Czech Republic and 15% in France say that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. While 26% in Canada and 44% in the U.S. say belief in God is necessary to be moral, nearly everyone surveyed in Indonesia (96%) and in the Philippines (96%) draws a connection between belief in God and having good values. And almost eight-in-ten (79%) in India say the same.
We know that Jesus is very inclusive and welcoming even as He invites everyone to repent and believe (Mark 1:15). So we need to be reminded that we are not the only ones invited into the Kingdom of God. There are so many who have been invited! This was a truth hard to swallow for the Jews who thought in a very exclusive way. This is still hard for those Christians who think similarly. An old anonymous poem presents this Gospel truth in an unforgettable way:
“I dreamt death came the other night, and heaven’s gate swung open wide
With kindly grace an angel bright, Ushered me inside
And there, to my astonishment, Stood folks I’d judged and labeled
As quite unfit, of little worth and spiritually disabled.
Indignant words rose to my lips, But never were set free.
For every face showed stunned surprise – No one expected me!”
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal