Heaven Bound?


Amtrak Rider

photography by D. Plasman

Is this man headed for heaven? If Chicago’s Union Station is considered heaven then the answer is “Yes.” On another level, however, I imagine most people who consider themselves religiously orthodox would give an answer along the lines of: “Well, that depends. Does he believe that Jesus died for his sins? Does he believe Jesus is God’s son? Does he believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?”

I discovered a different answer while spending much of the last two years writing Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke. Here’s an excerpt:

A leader in the community asked Jesus, “Good teacher, how do I get eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor your father and mother.” The questioner replied, “I’ve lived that way my whole life.” (Luke 18:18-21)

Let’s give the questioner a ton of credit. He prefers the direct approach and wants Jesus to know what’s on his mind. Let’s also applaud him for an apparent lack of sinister motives. He’s not trying to trap Jesus into saying something that later can be used against him.

The question on his mind is a universal one for all who believe or have a hunch that something exists beyond this life. He asks the question which millions of people have thought: “If there’s something beyond this life, how do I get it?”

However he understands eternal life, the afterlife, the next life, or the good life here and now, he supposes that getting it involves something he must do. Surely, there exists a list of boxes he can check off.

Just the opening Jesus needs! What an opportunity to dispel every misconception about obtaining eternal life! We might expect Jesus to say with evangelistic fervor, “Believe in me and the God who sent me.” Or, “Worship me as the only way, the only truth, and the only life; then you’ll be saved.”

Jesus doesn’t go that route. There’s no “Come to Jesus” sermon here—no emotional altar call either. Instead, Jesus honors his own tradition and that of the inquirer and says, “Live a noble life. Keep the commandments. Be good and do good.” Confidently comes the reply: “Amen, Good Teacher, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.”

I like where Jesus starts with this one. He acknowledges and respects what the inquirer already knows. Jesus doesn’t discredit or dismantle the beliefs dearly held. The lesson? We could do worse than honor the traditions of others who seek, as we do, answers to life’s most important questions.

[Jesus ends this encounter by telling the inquirer that he lacks only one thing, and if he can do this one thing, then he will be heaven bound and obtain eternal life. That one thing is to sell all he has, give the proceeds to the poor, then follow Jesus on the way. I wonder if we should take Jesus at his word? Let’s at least put a moratorium in our churches on telling people what they need to believe and, instead, encourage each other to live moral lives, regardless of the name with which we address God.]

In honor and in memory of M. L. King who urged, prodded, and challenged us to pursue a more just and equitable society — the stock market is closed today.

Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke is available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.com.


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  1. Michael Holton January 18, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    Thank you Dan, this was a thoughtful and inclusive answer to a question that we all grapple with on a daily basis.

  2. Anonymous January 18, 2016 at 10:00 pm #

    I don’t understand Dan, my interpretation of the Scripture was the rich rulers inability to give up his wealth and “follow” Jesus. I still see the focus being in a relationship with Christ.

    • Daniel Plasman January 19, 2016 at 9:35 am #

      I appreciate your comment. This incident from Luke 18 is similar to Jesus’ encounter with a legal expert in Luke 10. In both passages the question is put to Jesus: “How do I get eternal life?” Each time, Jesus answers by pointing to the ethical imperatives of the law. In other words, “Live a moral life. Love God, yourself, and your neighbor. And how do you demonstrate love? Hold loosely to things. Sacrifice. Pursue what makes for peace. Do what the Good Samaritan did and welcome the stranger (immigrant? refugee?). Give your last dollar to the poor, if you need to.” This, I would suggest, is what it means to follow Jesus–we seek to live the kind of life he lived. I guess that could be understood as having a “relationship” with Jesus, however, that language often means: “I’ve invited Jesus into my heart. Jesus died for my sins so I won’t go to hell. I pray to Jesus. I sing songs to Jesus, etc.” I don’t find such piety in Luke or the other gospels. I would go as far as to say, “It was the life Jesus lived that saves me, us, and the world, not the death he died. Hence the title, “Jesus, a Life”. Hope that clarifies rather than confuses things. Peace.

  3. Lou Bury January 19, 2016 at 10:50 am #

    Having now walked through “Chicago’s Union Station” twice a day, five days a week, for 31 years, I pray that heaven doesn’t have leaky roofs, falling concrete, rusting pillars, diesel exhaust, tired shops, and rest rooms most mothers wouldn’t let their kids in!