21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Reading 1, Isaiah 66:18-21; Responsorial Psalm, Psalms 117:1, 2; Reading 2, Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Gospel, Luke 13:22-30
Pastoral | 2019 Aug 21 | Fr. Antonio Martinez, OAR

Today’s readings contain a remarkable revelation. God will bring together all the nations and tongues. It was not just Israel that he wanted to share his blessings with. It was with all mankind. Both prophet Isaiah and the Gospel are in accord with the message of universalism. The Gospel shows Jesus journeying through cities and towns with a message: he again announces the journey of all peoples to the feast in which they are gathered in the Kingdom. It begins with the question of one who asks whether salvation is for the few, and concludes with the statement of universal salvation.

This is a troubling Gospel for anyone who counts on God’s mercy for salvation. Today’s parable focuses our attention on what is expected of me if I am to be saved. It teaches us to be careful lest the door of the Kingdom closes and we will be left out. In view of this, Jesus’ stark advice to his followers is to enter through the narrow gate. [Narrow door, obviously, is a figure of speech, expressing the discipline of life and the chastisement of body and soul so necessary for achievements. “The narrow gate of the old cities were wide enough for a person to get through. It is the size of a person because it is a person. Jesus is the narrow gate, the way any person can get through to the heavenly city.

Jesus refuses to answer the question about numbers ¿who are to be saved? as irrelevant. It’s the wrong question. If he had said, Only a few will be saved, he would have plunged us into the deepest despair upon realizing that we don’t have much chance of being in that number. But if Jesus had said, The number of the saved includes everybody, we might turn that despair into presumption: Why should we sacrifice since we’ve already got it made?

The right question is: How does one get into the Kingdom? Try to come through the narrow door, Jesus replied. He turns the conventional expectations of his listeners upside down. They assumed they would indeed be the preferred members. After all, they were the members of the chosen people. They knew the laws and rules to keep as signs of their justification: We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets. But Jesus had a different viewpoint. No one should be certain that he/she has the claim upon the Kingdom. The Pharisees were foolish in convincing themselves that abiding by over 600 prescriptions of the Law, they would be entering the narrow gate into eternal life. Jesus kept warning them that this is not God’s way. The narrow gate that Jesus refers to here is the gate of love of God and of neighbor.

The dialogue that Jesus imagines between the master of the house and those outside is frightening. Sir, open for us, they cry. They are told, I do not know where you come from. The emphasis seems to be on God not knowing these outsiders. In fact, they are the ones who do not know God if they choose to walk a different path than the one Jesus has shown.

Salvation is not automatic for anybody. Jesus cautions us against becoming vain and self-satisfied. He adds a stern warning that one must work hard to gain entrance through the narrow door that leads into the Kingdom. God’s love is certain. God’s generosity is certain. But neither is to be taken for granted. Jesus’ point is that we cannot take our own salvation as a matter of course. It is something we must work at. We must try to do God’s will in every aspect of our lives, and cooperate with his fatherly discipline (which the 2nd reading emphasizes), so that we can squeeze through the narrow door that leads into his eternal Kingdom.

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