“to heaven without ladders”:
comments of jesus christ
cases of kidnapping by aliens?
RACHEL Emisoras Latinas now continues its broadcasts from Nazareth. In the basement of the Church of the Holy Family a cemetery is preserved that dates from the times of Jesus. We have organized a trip here in the company of Jesus Christ himself. Are some of your relatives perhaps buried here, Jesus?
JESUS When my father Joseph died, we buried him where they buried all the Nazarenes. But all this has changed so much …
RACHEL Was his death hard for you?
JESUS Yes, my mother was left a widow with several children. Everything changed when my father was gone.
RACHEL And how did he die?
JESUS Not of sickness or old age. It was men who made him die before his time. Those were difficult days in Galilee. The Roman soldiers committed many atrocities. And my father was a just man. Because he gave refuge to some fellows who were fleeing a massacre, the soldiers gave him a terrible beating. He was left badly injured and was never able to get up again.
RACHEL I’m sorry to make you remember something so painful. And your mother? Where did she die?
JESUS I think in Jerusalem, but I’ve heard people say that it was in Ephesus. They say John took her to that distant city. I had asked him to look after her for me. But tell me, why do you want to talk about this, Rachel?
RACHEL Because our listeners want to know if what they say about the end of your mother’s life is true or not.
JESUS And what do they say?
RACHEL That she didn’t die, because … because she couldn’t die.
JESUS That can’t be. We all die. From dust we come and to dust we return.
RACHEL They also say that your mother’s body was so immaculate that the earth was incapable of swallowing it up.
JESUS When the grain of wheat falls to the ground, it decays, but it does not die. It continues to live in the new sprout.
RACHEL Well, what they say is that she did not die, but went to sleep. That “sleeping” business – is it truth or legend?
JESUS It’s a beautiful parable, because in dying we awaken to God. One door closes, and another opens.
RACHEL But they speak not of a door, but of a staircase. They claim that Mary went up to heaven, but differently from the way you went. Because we know that you ascended by yourself, but she was lifted up by angels.
JESUS That’s what they say?
RACHEL Just so.
JESUS I think they’re being rather inventive there.
RACHEL No, it’s a dogma of faith. The official word they use in your case is “ascension”. In her case they call it “assumption”. Using modern language, we’d say that you “lifted off” into space. And your mother was abducted, or absorbed.
JESUS What nonsense, Rachel! Nobody has to ascend anywhere, because God is not up there. God is here, within me, within you. God is the heart of all his creatures.
RACHEL What about heaven, then? In our previous programs you told us that there is no hell. Is there no heaven either? What happens after death?
JESUS Heaven is the work of God’s hands. We all live in the hands of God. And when we die, we will still be in God’s hands.
RACHEL But if it’s not asking too much, since you come from “up there”, could you give us an idea of what’s it’s like, just an inkling?
JESUS If you were to tell an unborn child what life was going to be like outside his mother’s womb, he wouldn’t believe you. He wouldn’t even understand you.
RACHEL So you won’t give us even a hint?
JESUS I assure you that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind can imagine what God has prepared for those who truly love.
RACHEL So we are left hanging between heaven and earth – without ascensions or assumptions, but still with great hope. From Nazareth, this is Rachel Perez, Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
The great beyond…
All religions propose answers to the great questions about the meaning of life and of history, and their great attraction is the certainty they offer about a reality “beyond” the life we know, about a life that goes beyond death. In the late classical Jewish tradition that ulterior reality was known as “resurrection”, in Christianity we speak of “eternal life”, and in Islam people are promised “paradise”.
The ultimate frontier
In the cultures of many non-Christian peoples death is accepted with a naturalness that Christianity has forgotten. The ancient Egyptians had a beautiful vision of death: dying was going to the “other shore”. On that trip the bird-soul was lifted toward the sun, and its existence was perpetuated in the image of the god Osiris. Among some North American Indians not only is there an attitude of serenity in the face of death, but people close to death take formal leave of their family and friends, depart from the village and sit down all alone, waiting for death to arrive. In fact, they invoke death so that, even before physical death touches them, they have prepared their spirit: they have already bid farewell and died to all that was their life.
In Christian culture, so influenced by a western philosophy centered on the individual self, fear of death is a logical element, because in death our “self” will be dissolved. And we cannot really imagine a continuation of our life without a continuation of our self. The attractiveness of religions is precisely that: they promise us salvation in the future, and that future salvation includes the survival of the self. At the same time, because Christian culture has separated human nature from the rest of nature and has posited such a profound dichotomy between body and spirit, it surrounds death with an aura of negativity and even of terror.
An alternative, truly Christian perspective would have us see death as an indispensable, natural phase in the process of life, a end that is already present in all vital processes. Death is a sign that nature has dominion over individual lives. However, when human beings have not felt linked to Mother Nature or have felt themselves superior to her, with the right to dominate and exploit her, then they will experience death as a fate imposed from outside, as a tragedy.
If there were no death…
In his novel The Intermittences of Death, Portuguese writer José Saramago, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, creates a surprising plot. Something extraordinary happens in a certain country: death decides to stop working, and everybody stops dying. At first there is great euphoria, but very soon chaos and desperation set in. If there is no death, then there is no time and everyone will have an eternal old age, which soon turns out to be unbearable. In this distressing situation, which people are unable to manage or assimilate, everyone seeks out ways, honest or dishonest, compassionate or heartless, to get death back to work. Finally one day death decides to reappear… The reflection prompted by this daring argument can help us understand the real meaning death has for our limited life.
Ascension and assumption “into heaven”
When traditional Christian faith affirms that at death the body is destroyed and the immortal soul enters into eternal life, it is establishing a hierarchy in which the body is considered inferior to the soul and of less value. This idea of the superiority of the spirit over the body runs through the whole of the Christian tradition and has had negative consequences of all kinds. Such an idea, however, does not derive from Jesus, for whom the body was the temple of God, and the divine was not above or outside the human. The Catholic dogmas of the Jesus’ Ascension into heaven and Mary’s Assumption into that same heaven attempt to compensate for the deep-rooted Catholic contempt for the body by establishing an exceptional privilege for at least two human bodies.
The Assumption: a dogma of faith
The tradition of a God “up there”, living in a distant heaven, is central to official Catholic doctrine. In November 1950 Pope Pius XII speaking ex cathedra – that is, infallibly, as defined in the previous century – proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into “heaven” with the following uncompromising words: We declare, promulgate and define that it is a divinely revealed dogma that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, at the end of her earthly life was elevated to celestial glory in body and soul. Therefore, if anyone dares (God forbid) to deny willingly or to doubt what has been defined by us, let him know that he has departed completely from the divine and Catholic faith.
Ascension: a metaphor
The Ascension of Jesus is not a dogma of faith. As it is related in the gospels (Matthew 28,16-20; Mark 16,19-20; Luke 24,50-52; Acts 1,3-11), the official doctrine considers this “ascent” to be a “historical” event, one of the many details that make up the “biography” of Jesus. This episode, however, is a metaphor: forty days after rising, Jesus “ascended into heaven.” The number 40 is symbolic in all Bible literature. In this case, it is meant to represent a complete and unrepeatable period, during which those who belonged to Jesus’ movement and believed in his message became totally convinced that Jesus continued to be present with them and among them, that he was already in God’s hands, and that God “had won the ballgame”, not the bad guys.
Heaven will be a party
The heavens are what we see “up there”, a blue mantle covering the earth, where clouds roam about and where the sun, the moon and stars shine brightly. Most religious traditions have placed God in “heaven”, in that “up there” which is external, distant and superior. But Jesus did not. Jesus spoke of God “within” each person and spoke also of making God present in just, inclusive, compassionate human relations that manifest solidarity.
Jesus often spoke of the full realization of God’s Kingdom, but he never called that heaven. In many passages the gospels (above all Matthew) speak of “the Kingdom of heaven”, but that concept is not from Jesus. He always spoke of and proclaimed the “Kingdom of God”.
Jesus never referred either to a final disengagement from history. He used several images to speak of the future and the “new world”: human beings would see God with their own eyes, the patrimony would be shared by all, festive laughter would be heard, God’s family would be gathered together at a banquet, the bread of life would be broken and shared… And all would be changed: the last would be first, the poor would no longer be poor, the hungry would be satisfied, the sad would rejoice…
What is most original in the message of Jesus and his movement is their claim that all this begins now on earth, in the world of human relations. All of this happens when we live in community and solidarity, when we serve and share with others, when we care for life and help those who are sick or distressed…. All this begins here as an inkling of what will be the fullness. The image of the festive banquet with the house full to overflowing was central to the language used by Jesus to speak of the future (Matthew 22,1-14). “Heaven” was to be a communal feast that would have no end.