I wonder if the person who asked Jesus, "Lord will only a few people be saved?" was asking out of curiosity, or because he or she was feeling cozy and part of the "in crowd." Did this person feel safe and secure thinking that what Jesus was saying about being rejected at the end time could not possibly apply to him, or her? Was the "someone" who asked the question one of those traveling with Jesus towards Jerusalem? Did the questioner think that membership in Jesus’ band automatically brought dividends with no further self-investment; just being with the Teacher would be enough?
The opening of today’s gospel narrative should cause us in the pews and at the altar to squirm. Are we just going along with the group, we who are members of the community and lead respectable lives? We follow the rules and fulfill our obligations. Is that enough? Maybe for us and those who admire us – but not for Jesus. Instead of playing the numbers game, answering the question about how many are to be saved, Jesus deflects the questioner’s inquiry. Forget about how many will be on the final guest list for the banquet, look instead to your own quality of discipleship. Jesus says we are to "strive" to enter through the narrow gate. From the Greek for "strive," ("Agonizesthe") we get our word "agony." This gives us a sense of what effort will be involved to get through that gate. The word could be applied to a strenuous athletic effort, the energy, pain and dedication athletes put into competition like the Olympics. Years of herculean efforts have brought them to the games, it has been a "narrow gate" indeed for them. Jesus calls his disciples to such efforts on behalf of the reign of God. He knows the goal is worth the effort. But as we preach from this passage we need to be cautious.
If we are not careful, this passage can be a trap for us preachers. In calling us to "strive," to work hard to enter "the narrow gate," to be "strong enough," the impression we might get is that if we put enough effort into it, we can enter the reign of God. All it requires is a lot of sweat, dedication and perseverance. But remember that grace lies beneath the surface of the biblical stories. Entrance through the narrow gate begins with an invitation from God. Having heard and accepted the invitation, we are in the realm of God’s grace, the constant source, energy and inspiration for our "striving."
Today’s Isaiah and gospel readings show how inclusive is God’s saving outreach. We may have our notions of who is "in" and who is "out"; who is worthy and who is not – but the gospel cautions us not to jump to conclusions and not to be smug. What kind of logic and world are we being invited into when the first are last and the last first? That’s certainly not the world to which we are accustomed. Of course not, it is an entirely new world – a new way of reasoning, judging, rewarding and giving entrance. In fact, the gospel suggests we put our math and standards in storage and let God be God when it comes to who comes through the admissions gate. We should tend, Jesus reminds us, to our own concern. We have heard the gospel, accepted Jesus’ promises, known the difference grace can make in our lives – and now we can strive to reach the finish line – thanks to God!
To help make the point that we do not earn entrance to the reign of God on our own, today’s account begins with a reminder of place. Remember Jesus is on the road, making his way to Jerusalem. A major section of Luke’s gospel (9:51-18:14) takes place on the road to the holy city. So, the reading begins with a reminder that the "striving," the difficult task and struggle needed to accomplish our salvation, will be first achieved through Jesus’ dying and rising in Jerusalem. Jesus will faithfully fulfill his mission to preach and practice the good news, even though it will mean his death. In today’s passage, as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, Luke would not have us forget that the source of our new lives is Jesus; through him we are given the desire and commitment to "strive" to get through the narrow gate.
In Jesus’s society, when people ate together they became part of the inner circle, they were like family members. Those who are locked out of the house, in his brief parable, are claiming prerogatives from Jesus because, they say, they belong to his "company," they ate and drank with him and his disciples. Based on their standards of acceptance, they are right, they belong with Jesus. But Jesus says more is required of those who sit at table with him. For those of us with him at this Eucharistic table, more is required than membership in our church, parish and community. Salvation is not guaranteed to a privileged group who claim rights based on membership.
Those requesting admission at the door proffer still more credentials to get in. They claim Jesus taught in their streets and sat among them in their synagogues. Jesus’ response is abrupt. More than hearing him is necessary; more than being able to recite correct doctrine is needed to make us people who bear his name – Christian. We have to put his words into practice. But how inclusive should that practice be? As wide as the world in which we live. We must be open to all, "from the east and the west, and from the north and the south," for those who are good, no matter what their background, will be invited to dine with Jesus and the great ancestors of faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Such a vision must have startled Jesus’ hearers who thought they would be among the privileged because they could claim Jesus as "one of ours."
Why is this gate "narrow?" Gustavo Gutierrez, OP, puts it this way.
The narrow door is clearly restrictive not in reference to people but in terms of the "right" to be saved. Salvation does not come from a mere physical closeness to Jesus (vv. 26-27). It is not enough to have eaten and to have drunk with him or to have listened to him in the public squares. It is not the consequence of belonging to a specific people either, in this case the Jewish people (v. 28). The text does not say it, but in fidelity to the spirit of Jesus’ answer we could add that salvation is not limited to one race or one culture. Salvation comes when we accept Jesus and start to follow him. This is the narrow door, the only door to life and it is a demanding entrance. At times, it may be painful, like the discipline mentioned in Hebrews, "but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (12:11). ( page 211, see below)
We may be too restrictive in our estimation of where God is present and acting. We tend to look only within our church walls to see God’s special ones; we tend to rank one denomination over another as "truer" than others; we tend to make too sharply-defined distinctions between the useful and useless; we tend to jump to conclusions about people’s worth from how they look and speak, the jobs they have or don’t have, the income they make, their place of origin. Well, the last shall be first and the first last and "they" will come from all the points of the compass to sit at the table. So, we had better put on our biblical lens, look again and, if we have not already done so, start "striving" to live as people with another vision of reality.
When we enter the final and everlasting banquet, Jesus tells us, we will be surprised at those enjoying the feast. God has a pretty broad vision and we will be surprised at those who "made it" through the narrow gate. If we accept this vision of the end time then we should start preparing for it now. We need a change of glasses; we need to look at our world through biblical lens and act accordingly.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
Evangelization is a scary word to many Catholics as it conjures up someone who stands out in public spouting Bible verses. However, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) states, "We use the word ‘evangelization’ because its root meaning is ‘Gospel’ (Good News) and because it calls us, even if it is uncomfortable, to live the faith of our baptism more openly and to share it more freely" (24). The bishops believe that evangelization "means something special for us as Catholics. We can see what it means by looking at what happens to evangelized people. Not only are they related to Jesus by accepting his Gospel and receiving his Spirit; even more, their lives are changed by becoming disciples, that is, participants in the Church, celebrating God's love in worship and serving others as Jesus did" (25). (https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/evangelization/go-and-make-disciples/what_is_evangelization_go_and_make_disciples) Not only is our relationship with Jesus key to our spiritual life but also our relationship with the community that is the Church, ‘the People of God,’ and through accompanying others who are also made in God’s image.
And what is the Good News that we are sharing? He is risen! Christ is risen! Christ lives in us. As Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy states in his "Stations of the Cross on Nonviolent Love," "Christ has risen means that his teaching of nonviolent love and mercy as God’s will is true, and therefore must be taught and followed, not altered or ignored. . ." Pope Francis proclaims, "The faith and love of Christ have the ability to lead us far and wide to proclaim the Gospel of love, brotherhood and justice. And this is done with prayer, with evangelical courage and with the witness of the Beatitudes" (6/5/15, Mission).
Our witness begins with an encounter with our Lord, sometimes through His Word in scripture or other inspired writings, sometimes through our relationship with others, especially the poor, and sometimes by a new appreciation of the natural world when its bounty is recognized as a gift from God. Think about when you have encountered our Lord in this very personal way; felt a sense of being loved unconditionally. Isn’t that worth sharing? Jesus desired that we have a more just world and that we strive for unity. Sharing the nonviolent love and mercy we have received is the way and, surprise, we are evangelizing the Good News.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough."
The "narrow gate" is an image for Jesus’ way of living and his gift of himself so that we can follow that way. To forgive is a narrow gate; to serve by giving time and money for those in need is a narrow gate; to put aside my schedule and agenda to listen to another’s pain, is a narrow gate; to live a careful and frugal life, to have less so someone can have some, is a narrow gate; etc.
So we ask ourselves:
I don’t want a moratorium on the death penalty, I want the abolition of it. I can’t understand why a county [USA] that is so committed to human rights doesn’t find the death penalty and obscenity.----Bishop Desmond Tutu
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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