TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Psalms 117:1, 2
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
You have only one opportunity to have the Master’s ear, and so you shout out, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” You then second guess yourself: “Well, that was a stupid question! How could Jesus possibly know! I should have asked what I really want to know: Am I going to be among those saved?” In any case, Jesus does not answer the question (did He think it was stupid or just off the mark?), and so Jesus changes the subject to something He clearly felt was more important for His audience to hear.
One thing is for certain, the size and scope of those entering the kingdom is without measure: “people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Further, the group of ‘saved’ people is not necessarily going to look anything like what the individual shouting the question expects, for “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are not addressed to those with the loudest voice, for He “answered them,” not just the questioner, for there is something important that all the listeners needed to know.
Jesus’ answer (which really is not an answer to the question asked) is a parable of sorts. Like the varied gates through the walls of Jerusalem, the gates into the kingdom of God are varied, and some are narrower by design. Jesus wants His listeners to choose the narrower gate, the more difficult gate. The gate into God’s kingdom is going to be like an episode of ‘Survivor’ – it is going to involve challenge, and hardship, and “discipline.” Entering “through the narrow gate” you will have to be “strong enough,” and fortified by a lifetime of good works which go before you. It is those good works which “unlock” the Master’s door, and which cause the Master to recognize you among the “many.” The good works we do make the narrower path just that much less narrow, and even if there is some momentary “pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
“Good works” are not meant to be confused with the ordinary demands of a genuinely spiritual life. Those gathered outside the Master’s house protested in the hope of gaining entry: “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets;” we rubbed shoulders with you (Mass, devotions, pious deeds, etc.) – surely you remember us? In Jesus’ parable the rejects not only include the ordinary man and woman, but also “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets,” people Jesus’ listeners surely thought were already enjoying the kingdom. It is this kind of language which would infuriate some of Jesus’ listeners, and be the catalyst for His crucifixion.
Jesus’ point, as we so often say, is not that we earn entrance into the kingdom by amassing multiple rosaries, near constant attendance at Mass, or hours spent in front of the tabernacle – we do not earn heaven! Jesus frequently encounters Pharisees whose attention to the Old Law is nearly flawless, and yet they would likely be among those referred to in the gospel as “evildoers,” and they would be standing outside the house “wailing and grinding their teeth.”
Jesus wants more. Jesus wants a total conversion of the heart which is able to put into practice, without deliberately seeking attention, the redeeming good news that He came to share with us. Jesus will recognize us at the end of our lives by our lifetime of trying to live out the gospel in word and deed. The Old Law of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” tried its best, but somewhere along the line it got lost and caught up in the things that don’t really matter. Every religion faces that challenge at one time or another. Pope Francis’ corrective of the pre-Vatican II church is his attempt to help us focus on what truly matters.
Let us endure the trials and “discipline” that accompany living out the gospel, and when its our time to knock on the door and seek entrance into the kingdom of God, may God open the door and give us a warm embrace, for God knows exactly who we are, and how hard we have worked in our lifetime to amass a fortune in good deeds.