21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2010

22 August 2010

Isaiah 66:18-21
Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13
Luke 13:22-30

One time I was on my way to visit a Nigerian family I knew but got lost so I stopped at a house to ask the way. The man who came to the door was a Muslim. He greeted me kindly and immediately invited me in to share their evening meal that they were having at that moment. I was obviously not a Nigerian.  He didn’t ask me if I were Muslim or whatever, whether I believed in Allah or was I an atheist.

He just welcomed and invited me to join them. He did not set any conditions for me to belong.

In the gospel today when Jesus is asked ‘will only a few people be saved?’ he does not answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Rather he invites people to enter the narrow gate. What does he mean? Well, the opening of today’s gospel gives us the key to understand Jesus’ answer. He is making his way to Jerusalem where he will die. Regardless of the cost he is determined to do his Father’s will. Those who try to do likewise and attempt to be true to what Jesus asks will join him in heaven.

The little parable that follows uses the image of a door. The master has locked the door and people come along and ask that the door be opened for them. Twice the master replies that he does not know where they come from. Jesus says they will claim they ate and drank in his company and he taught in their streets. But that is not enough. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of my Father but he/she who does the will of my Father in heaven”. In 1 John 3.18 we read that ‘our love is to be not just words or mere talk but something real and active’.

Jesus is telling us clearly that labels are not enough: those like Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist etc. can lead us to be complacent, and to take things for granted because we bear a certain religious label. Jesus was telling the Jews of his time that they were in danger of being locked out of the kingdom because they did not heed the call to repentance. All this is important for us. We must not repeat the mistake of Jesus’ contemporaries who thought they had a divine right to enter the kingdom of God, that they belonged to the club, so to speak. The gospel message is meant for us too: but when we are inclined to think that someone is ‘not one of us’, we might remember the teaching of Jesus – that no one is beyond the mercy and acceptance of God.

Remember Jesus was speaking to his Jewish hearers and especially to the religious leaders like the Pharisees, the Scribes and the Pharisees. These were convinced beyond doubt that only Jews could be saved. Not only Jews but the Jews who followed the Law exactly as they interpreted it. That is why they were determined to get rid of Jesus. He was acting like an outsider. He broke the Sabbath from time to time, he did not always uphold their religious traditions. He touched lepers and ate with people they called public sinners. He allowed women to go about publicly with him.

We might think that Jesus was giving us a new teaching in this regard but the first reading today from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah says that the Lord will come to gather the nations of every language. And he is not talking just about Israelites.  In 1 Tim. 2.4 we read ‘God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’. The Good News of today’s gospel is that God wants all people to be saved, irrespective of religious labels. Anyone who acts in a loving manner, following his/her conscience and is guided by the Spirit, even if not formally acknowledged will be part of God’s kingdom.

Each one of us has the capacity to allow Jesus Christ into our hearts or keep him out. The choice is ours. God doesn’t lock anyone out of his house. We do it ourselves by the choices we make in life.  It is not enough to say we heard of him, knew about him. To enter demands going through the narrow gate – the gate of love, forgiveness, compassion, living in peace with others, sharing what we have when this is possible. All this is far from easy.

But entry into God’s house by the narrow gate is possible for each one. The secret is to have the humility to knock on God’s door and ask God to allow us in. The narrow gate reminds us that salvation cannot be obtained through our own strength alone.  When Christ knocks on the door of our hearts he is asking us to allow him in and to journey with us, to call on his help freely offered.

God passionately wants us all to be in his kingdom. Jesus tells us not to worry, that in his Father’s house there are many mansions. There is enough room for us all. But we can refuse the invitation to enter. If we truly appreciate God’s incredible love for us, we will try with the help of the Holy Spirit to enter by the narrow gate, to follow him closely, that is, to do God’s will. It is the best way of saying ‘thank you’ to him for his call and choice of us as well as the many gifts he lavishes on us daily in life.

The Eucharist is the way in which we show that we are at least trying to be one with God and the other people with whom we celebrate and by extension all others, each of whom is a child of God.

“Lord, never let us take you for granted.  May our lives of service, of following you closely. be our thank you for your choice of us. Amen”.

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA