A few months ago I read Kate Braestrup’s excellent memoir Here If You Need Me, and I’ve been thinking about this passage ever since.
My son Zach is the child of Unitarian Universalists, so naturally he didn’t know a lot about Jesus. But I heard a lot about Jesus at my Christian seminary, and a lot of it was pretty cool.
So one day, I found myself telling Zach about Jesus’s life and death, the stories they told about him, what he said to his disciples.
“When Jesus talked about loving,” I said, “I think he meant something really radical. I think he was talking about loving as God loves; loving completely, loving with a whole self. He told his disciples to give everything they had, everything they were, to hold nothing back, not money, not time, not even life itself. Everything was to be given over in the service of love.”
I went on about this for a while, sermonizing in a motherly sort of way, and Zach listened carefully, because even as a young boy he was always a careful listener.
“So, Mom,” he said at last. “Let’s say I decide to become a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.”
“What?” I said, startled and alarmed.
“No, but let’s say I do.”
“Okay,” I said cautiously.
“And I die, and because I’m a Christian, I get to go to heaven instead of going to hell.”
“Yeah . . .”
“If I really take Jesus seriously, if I really am willing to give up everything I am and everything I have in the service of love, if I am really a Christian . . . it seems to me I would have to give my place in heaven to someone else, someone who otherwise wouldn’t get to go.”
I stared at him.
“I’d have to go to hell, so this other person could be in heaven. Right, Mom?”
If Zach were your son, what would you say?