Jesus, Yeshu Satsang, taught to show how the citizens of heaven were to treat each other. He also healed people of sickness and evil spirits to give a foretaste of what he called the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. He commanded Nature by speaking to it to show the nature of His Kingdom.
We use various terms to identify this kingdom. Probably the most common is Svarg or svarga lok. Other terms are Vaikuntha, Devaloka, Brahmaloka, Satyaloka, Kailasa, Brahmapura, Satya begecha, Vaikuntha Loka, Vishnuloka, Paramam padam, Nitya Vibhuti, Thirupparamapadham or Vaikuntha Sagar. Different traditions use different terms, emphasizing connections with various devas, but these differences are not fundamental. What is fundamental is this is a blissful and peaceful place, free from suffering and ignorance common with life here, and where a relationship with God is realized. The Bible summarizes the fundamentals of heaven in this way
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”Revelation 21:4
Jesus himself also used different terms for heaven. He often prefaced heaven with ‘Kingdom’, (closer to ‘raj’ than ‘loka’). He also used ‘paradise’ and ‘Kingdom of God’ synonymously with Kingdom of Heaven. But more importantly, he also used common, every-day stories to help us get a better understanding of heaven. A unique illustration he used to explain heaven was that of a great feast or party. In his story he revises the well-known phrase ‘The guest is God’ (Atithi Devo Bhava) to ‘We are God’s guest’
Story of the Great Feast of Heaven
Jesus taught of a great feast (a banquet) to illustrate how wide and far the invitation to enter heaven extends. But the story does not go as we might expect. The gospel recounts:
One of those at the table with Jesus heard these things and said to him, “Blessed are the people who will share in the meal in God’s kingdom.”
16 Jesus said to him, “A man gave a big banquet and invited many people. 17 When it was time to eat, the man sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come. Everything is ready.’
18 “But all the guests made excuses. The first one said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go look at it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen; I must go and try them. Please excuse me.’ 20 A third person said, ‘I just got married; I can’t come.’ 21 So the servant returned and told his master what had happened. Then the master became angry and said, ‘Go at once into the streets and alleys of the town, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 Later the servant said to him, ‘Master, I did what you commanded, but we still have room.’ 23 The master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes, and urge the people there to come so my house will be full. 24 I tell you, none of those whom I invited first will eat with me.’”Luke14:15-24
Our accepted understandings are turned upside down – many times – in this story. First, we might assume that God does not invite people into heaven (which is the Feast) because he invites only worthy people, but that is wrong. The invitation to the feast goes to many, many people. The master/swami (God in this story) wants the feast to be full.
But there is an unexpected twist. Very few of the invited guests actually want to come. Instead they make excuses so they do not have to come! And think how unreasonable the excuses are. Who would buy oxen without first having tried them out before he bought them? Who would buy a field without first already looking it over? No, these excuses revealed the true intentions of the invited guests’ hearts – they were not interested in Heaven, having other interests instead.
Just when we think that perhaps the master will be frustrated with so few coming to the feast there is another twist. Now the ‘unlikely’ people, those who we would not invite to our own celebrations, those live in “streets and alleys” and far-away “roads and country lanes”, who are “poor, crippled, blind and lame” – those we often stay away from – they get invitations to the feast. The invitations to this feast go much further, and cover more people than you and I could imagine. The master wants people at his feast and invites those we ourselves would not invite into our own house.
And these people come! They have no other competing interests like fields or oxen to distract their love so they come to the feast. Heaven is full and the master/swami’s will is accomplished!
Jesus told this story to get us to ask a question: “Would I accept an invitation to Heaven if I got one?” Or would a competing interest or love cause you to make an excuse and decline the invitation? The truth is that you are invited to this feast of heaven, but the reality is that most of us will decline the invitation for one reason or another. We would never say ‘no’ directly so we offer excuses to hide our rejection. Deep down inside we have other ‘loves’ that are at the roots of our rejection. In this story the root of the rejection was love of other things. Those who were first invited loved the temporary things of this world (represented by the ‘field’, ‘oxen’ and ‘marriage’) more than heaven and God.
Story of the Unjustified Acharya
Some of us love things in this world more than heaven and so we will refuse this invitation. Others of us love or trust our own righteous merit. Jesus also taught about this in another story using a respected leader as an example:
Jesus told this story to some people who thought they were very good and looked down on everyone else: 10 “A Pharisee and a tax collector both went to the Temple to pray. 11 The Pharisee stood alone and prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people who steal, cheat, or take part in adultery, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast[a] twice a week, and I give one-tenth of everything I get!’
13 “The tax collector, standing at a distance, would not even look up to heaven. But he beat on his chest because he was so sad. He said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, when this man went home, he was right with God, but the Pharisee was not. All who make themselves great will be made humble, but all who make themselves humble will be made great.”Luke18: 9-14
Here a Pharisee (a religious leader like an acharya) seemed to be perfect in his religious effort and merit. His fasting and pujas were perfect and even more than required. But this acharya placed his confidence in his own merit. This was not what Sri Abraham had shown so long before when he received righteousness simply by humble trust in the promise of God. In fact the tax collector (an immoral profession in that culture) humbly asked for mercy, and trusting that he had been given mercy he went home ‘justified’ – right with God – while the Pharisee (acharya), whom we assume has earned sufficient merit has his sins still counted against him.
So Jesus asks you and me if we really desire the Kingdom of Heaven, or if it is just an interest among lots of other interests. He also asks us what we are trusting in – our merit or God’s mercy and love.
It is important to honestly ask ourselves these questions because otherwise we will not understand his next teaching – that we need Inner Cleanliness.