Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time August 21, 2016
Reading 1 Is 66:18-21
Responsorial Psalm Ps 117:1, 2
- (Mk 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News. Reading 2 Heb 12:5-7, 11-13
Alleluia Jn 14:6
Gospel Lk 13:22-30
Homily— August 20 & 21, 2016
From the Old Testament reading from the Prophet Isaiah we learn that the Lord knew their thoughts just as the Lord knows our thoughts today. The Lord will gather the nations to see his glory. People will come from all directions: from Tarshish in Southern Spain, from Put and Lud in Africa, from Tubal near the Black Sea, and from Javan in the Ionian Islands. These are Gentile peoples from whom the Lord will take some as priests and some as Levites thus sharing the good news beyond the chosen people of the Jews.
As Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem he met many people and I am sure encountered hundreds of questions. Today the question is “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus was not in the habit of giving straight answers to such simplistic questions. Instead, complicating the question and confounding the questioners, he turned the tables and said that the process is not so clear. Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. . .for many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
Jesus called the door to the kingdom “narrow”. In times of attack, the city would close its gates for protection. There was still the need to get people into the city at a moment’s notice. Large city gates cannot be opened and closed quickly, so there was always a smaller, narrow door. It was narrow so that if the door was breached during an attack, only one attacking soldier at a time could get through; therefore, this door only required a handful of defenders. One day the gates will be closed, and there will be only the narrow door, and it’s not easy to enter.
The same Greek word is the root for our words “strive” and “agony”. “Strive to enter.” “Agonize” over entering. This is the call of Jesus. Some translations say, “Try to enter,” which does capture the sense of effort Jesus tells us we must make. “Striving” implies working very hard, just as Olympic athletes give their all to achieve victory. We cannot run next week’s marathon if we start working out only today. Time is essential for any achievement, but time does run out.
We must respond to God’s invitation appropriately. Unfortunately, we get off the hook for our mistakes and sins so often in this life that we allow ourselves to believe we can get off the hook when it comes to getting into heaven. Jesus warns us that such a casual response to God and His expectations of us will leave us as strangers to Him. We might occasionally eat in company with the Lord at Mass, but that does not mean we have really come to know Him. Acquaintances are not friendships. Friendship with the Lord is the proper response to God’s invitation to join Him, in the Kingdom. Friendship requires work. We have to strive to make friends, and we have to strive harder to keep friends.
Presumption plays a part in those who believe that they ought to be offered entrance through the narrow door because of who they are and not because of how they have lived their lives. Just because I am a priest with the title Monsignor does not give me a ticket to heaven.
Those “thrown out” assumed they ought to be there, but Jesus says the kingdom of God will be full of surprises. Those who are present “will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Anybody, from any corner of the earth, can walk the path to the narrow door.
Central to Luke’s message is the idea that everyone is invited to participate in the journey of dying to our egotistical self and rising to a life of generosity and mercy. Everyone is invited to follow the way of life Jesus dramatically portrayed. The “narrow gate” opens onto a path that is not our usual first choice. The words that the disciples of Jesus take to heart are strive, struggle, endeavor and attempt to do God’s Will.
Health care personnel constantly remind us of the necessity of exercise and strength training for physical well-being. What are you doing to care for your body? We also need strength training for our spiritual well-being. When you eat and drink with the Lord at Mass are you changed? What kind of effort do you make to pray, to discipline yourself, to be a disciple—a friend of Jesus?
Strive to “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.” Strive to “Forgive seventy times seven, as your Father does.” Strive to “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Strive to be among those to whom the Lord will say, “I was hungry and you gave me food.”
I hope that I can squeeze through that narrow door and I hope you can do the same. May we push or pull each other through that gate.