You’re in a deep, dark hole. You look at your wife and infant child and say, “Never mind how we got here, we just need to get out!”
Like MacGyver, you look around for something to use. All you can find are some sticks and weeds. Desperately, you attempt to fashion a ladder, or at least a step stool, from these meager materials. It’s no use. It breaks under your weight.
Suddenly, you hear a voice from above. You see a ladder coming down towards you and a voice says, “Come to me!” “But, there’s a baby down here,” you yell. “Step up on the first rung and lift the child up. I’ll reach down and take him.” In an act of faith, you raise him up and someone grabs him. You think to yourself, “How did he know it was a boy?”
The voice says, “Now, you climb out.” You and your wife climb out of the pit, one rung at a time. Along the way, you slip many times, but a hand from above reaches down to you and says, “Keep coming.” You grab his hand, regain your footing and persevere. At the top, you embrace your baby, but not before embracing the man that gave you that ladder. You ask the man, “How can I repay you?” He replies, “You can’t. Just watch out for those pits. You can keep the ladder as my gift. You might need it again.” You notice a strange wound on the man’s hand.
The hole is the fallen state of humanity that we cannot climb out of on our own. The sticks and weeds represent the Mosaic Law that, no matter how hard we “work it,” is unable to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). We cannot boast of our ability to build a ladder. The ladder that came down is the grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:8). It is the free gift of God.
The rungs of the ladder are the Sacraments of the Church. Baptism is the first step which initiates the journey upwards. We see the free gift of grace is available even to the infant, for Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not,” and the book of Acts indicates that baptism is for “the entire household.”
By climbing the ladder, we don’t “earn” Heaven. We cooperate with the free gift of grace that is given to us despite our unworthiness. We see why James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Yes, it takes “work” to climb the ladder, but this is not the “works of the Law” that Paul speaks of. It is what Paul calls the “obedience of the faith.” This is a ladder that is able to support our weight because it was fashioned not by Moses, but by the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ. We trust Jesus. Therefore, we trust his ladder. We don’t build the ladder ourselves.
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!” What a beautiful ladder I see!