Today, you will be with me

A Catholic family member has frequently cited John 17:21 in his defense of the Catholic Church.

that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

He sees the Church as the answer to Jesus’ prayer here in that she is a body of believers united under one head in contrast to Protestantism with its thousands of denominations divided by doctrinal disputes. Therefore, the Catholic Church must be what Jesus had in mind and the true fulfillment of his promise to build his church.

11-StationBut if that’s true, it’s very difficult to reconcile with much of what Jesus also said. In particular:

Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. – Luke 23:43

The thief crucified next to Jesus went directly to Heaven upon his death because he acknowledged him as the Son of God and submitted to him in faith. Even though he:

  • was not baptized
  • never partook of the Eucharist
  • did not confess his sins to a priest
  • was completely clueless about doctrine
  • and according to Matthew’s account, “reviled” Jesus along with the other thief as their hours-long, slow death commenced.

This condemned man, consigned to his fate but not willing to go quietly, initially joined with his compatriot on the cross and the angry crowd in hurling insults at Jesus. But as the agonizing ordeal progressed and he heard the Jewish leaders scoffingly mock his claim to be “the Christ of God, his Chosen One,” and watched the way Jesus humbly endured his suffering, even asking his Father to forgive those who mocked and put him there, this guilty criminal believed and “passed from death to life.”

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Luke 23:42

“Today, you will be with me,” Jesus said to him. No preliminary pit stop in Purgatory first, which would likely last for years since he had just insulted the Son of God to his face. That very day he would be in the presence of a holy God because that very day his many sins were paid for and removed from him “as far as the east is from the west” by the very one who hung next to him as an innocent sacrifice, without spot or blemish.

But the Catholic Church would have us believe that Jesus ordained salvation to be attained only through her, by submitting to her authority, partaking of the sacraments, “cooperating” with God’s grace by performing meritorious good works, and suffering the painful purging of our “venial” sins after death (one unconfessed “mortal” sin sends us directly to Hell)…in stark contrast to the simple gospel of salvation by faith alone that Jesus demonstrated from the cross, and taught in his ministry:

  • And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:50
  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. – John 5:24
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. – John 6:47
  • I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” – John 8:24
  • Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, – John 11:25

His chosen apostles also testified to the simple gospel of salvation by faith alone. Just a few of the many examples:

  • For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. – Romans 3:28
  • because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9
  • And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:31
  • he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, – Titus 3:5

The unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 is realized in the oneness that every true believer has with the living God and with other believers because of the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit when we submit to him in faith. Disputes about doctrine may divide us in the details, but if our faith and trust is in Jesus as God and Lord, we are one with him and need know nothing beyond that to be with him where he is…forever.