Greetings on this the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: IS 66:18-21; PS 117:1, 2; HEB 12:5-7, 11-13; LK 13:22-30
The Gospel reading for today has Jesus speaking of the narrow gate (or narrow way). In the Gospel of Matthew version the narrow gate is evaluated or realized by the fruits of the works of the person. In the Luke version the narrow gate is determined by the effort or striving one attempts. Heaven it seems in not merely a creed or profession but a reflection on how we think and what we do.
I am not sure if this is common where you live but here we use off duty policeofficer to perform traffic control at our local houses of worship. The efficient movement of many vehicles into and out of a given house of worship requires an authoritative traffic control person and who better than a police officer.
Usually this work is pretty straight forward. Maybe a 15-20 minute effort in total and it can be done without a great deal of effort. But this one Sunday there were many, many cars. The traffic control policeman really struggled to keep up with the volume and the duration of the traffic control effort. We knew it would be a more difficult day so after it was over we walked over to the police officer to thank him. Before we could say a word he blurted out: ‘Father, you must tell me in advance when you are going to have a big event! This was much too hard to do all alone and I should have had help.’ Father responded, ‘Are you Christian’ The police officer replied, ‘Yes.’ Father said, ‘Today is Easter.’
Back to the Gospel story.
The people were clearly worried. Seeing and hearing the differences between the leadership and their teaching and Jesus and his teaching would naturally create some serious thinking: ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ Spiritual neglect (we used to call it lukewarm) is a reasonable understanding of this teaching of Jesus. What exactly do we need to think/do/say? Is wealth a sign of God’s approval or a product of sin?
Jesus instead points to the contrast – the opposite of a life of salvation. In other words, Jesus does not answer the question directly. Instead he offers the example of exactly what we should NOT be like.
In the dialog of arriving at the narrow gate and wanting access some are turned away, ‘I do not know where you are from.’
To which they reply: ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Jesus repeats his statement, ‘I do not know where you are from.’
The ‘ate and drink’ statement needs to be unpack. Jesus deliberately wants us to do that. The statement is concerned with the worldly good of life and is missing the spiritual good of life. It contains the three basic forms of obsession for worldly good and becomes the evidence about those who are denied entry.
The three are:
- Pleasures of Life (Flesh) – Food and drink even the Sign of the Multiplication of the Bread is to be taken for the body alone.
- Pleasures of the Eye (Possessions) – Riches of the world. Our city, you were invited to our city. We possess this place.
- Pride of Life (Honor) –They want to possess honor, be given honor and not give God the honor.
Jesus’ warning is that worldly good can have such a powerful influence over us as to put our eternal soul at risk of eternal exclusion.
Depart from me, all you evildoers, he said. Doing evil is the problem. Attending to your spiritual good is the way to the narrow gate.
Jesus is the gate. Following in his path, making your way to your personal Jerusalem is a truly fulfilling life with eternal benefits.
Peace be with you,