Our faith in the humanity and divinity of Jesus can sometimes run up against vexing questions. An example is Jesus’ foretelling of the end of the world that he concludes by stating: But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Surely, if Jesus is truly God and Man, then this information would have been available to him? Similarly, in today’s gospel, the master of the house (symbolizing, Christ) says to those knocking on the door I do not know where you are from. Expressing the same idea in slightly different language, Matthew has Jesus retorting I never knew you. What are we to make of these puzzling statements?
I believe it fair to presume that Jesus was not lying and that his statements are not intended to confuse but to express profound truths about just who and what we are. In considering Jesus’ statement, I do not know where you are from and comparing it with that found in Matthew, I never knew you, I believe they may be conveying the same basic truth. In this I am reminded of a both Saint Augustine’s and our Cistercian Fathers’ reference to our present exile from the kingdom as dwelling in the “land of unlikeness.” This is, of course, a reference to our having been created in the “image and likeness” of God and, through Adam and Eve’s sin, having lost that likeness and thus been exiled to this land of unlikeness.
Accordingly, for Jesus to say that, I do not know where you are from, would seem to refer to those who have made no effort to emigrate from this darkened land of unlikeness towards the bright uplands of our Eternal Home, that ultimate land of likeness. Jesus does not know this land of unlikeness because for Jesus to know is to love, and he cannot love what is ultimately a mirage with no real existence, inhabited by people no more authentic than the land they inhabit. In similar vein, for Jesus to say, I never knew you, is to affirm that the persons we have become in this land of unlikeness bear little or no resemblance to what God created us to be; and so he does not recognize us.
Emigrating from this land of unlikeness and journeying towards the land of likeness, is something only undertaken with, in, and through Christ—that perfect Image of the Father, and in whose image we are created. Expressed slightly differently, it is only in coming to know Christ intimately and uniting ourselves with him that we become who we truly are. Thus, to have eaten in [his] company and have observed him teaching in [their] streets, does not qualify those knocking on the door for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, although Jesus seems to place his encounter with those knocking on the door at the end of life, this same fruitless knocking can happen here and now. When our prayer (which is our knocking on the door) does not gain us entry, it may be because we are still too deeply enmeshed in this land of unlikeness and have not broken with our attachments to its beguiling but illusory pleasures and distractions. Jesus, for his part is not going to confirm us in unreality of our present distorted selves. Accordingly, his apparent unresponsiveness to our knocking is an act of love calling us to ever-deeper repentance. For it is only by repentance and conversion that we slowly extricate ourselves from entanglement in this land of unlikeness, and steadily regain that likeness to our Creator. Only in this way, will we be easily recognized when we knock, and so be welcomed into the joy of the heavenly Kingdom.