August 25, 2019
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
(Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30)
In our Gospel today, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem. He is about halfway through the journey that he began in our Gospel reading from a couple weeks ago. Along the way he meets Samaritans, women, men, children, Pharisees, scholars, people who are lame, people who suffer from leprosy, people who are blind, a rich official and a tax collector. To each of these diverse groups, Jesus proclaims the same message; the kingdom of God is at hand. In all that he does Jesus speaks the kingdom and lives the kingdom.
Today’s Gospel gives us another vision of what this kingdom is about. The way to enter is “narrow,” but inside the kingdom we find people from every race, nation, and tongue. We might be surprised about who we don’t find, however. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said (paraphrased), “I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, we will see some people whom we never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom we did not expect to see there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that we will be there.”
God is not one to be fooled or outdone. (Even though, in the news, I hear that someone thinks of themselves as the “chosen one!” Let’s just hope he strictly meant in regard to his dealings with China!) Jesus issues the warning that some of those who knock on the door and tell the Lord, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets,” will not find welcome inside the kingdom of God. Instead the master of the kingdom will say, “I do not know where you are from.”
Entry into the kingdom is not dependent on one’s physical proximity to Jesus. Even those who spend their lives in the church, eating and drinking at the table of the Lord (example, only attend Mass on Sunday and ignore God the rest of the week), cannot stop there, passively living a faith that demands much more from us, our very selves. In order to enter the kingdom, we must be from the kingdom. Our words and actions must proclaim this kingdom as Jesus’ did. We must follow in his example.
Nobody likes disappointment. Dealing with it can be a difficult lesson that many of us learn in childhood, and some still struggle to learn as adults. We can avoid disappointment in a number of ways including being prepared, having proper expectations, and knowing a given situation. When we do these things, sometimes our disappointments diminish. For example, we don’t expect a friend who is chronically late to be punctual. It’s a matter of managing expectations.
Today’s Gospel gives us a somewhat troubling story of those who most assuredly were disappointed upon hearing Jesus’ words. Can we imagine standing, knocking on the door to the house only to be told by the master, “I do not know where you are from?” or even more, “Depart form me, all you evildoers!” Most of us would be far more than just disappointed to hear these words, yet this is precisely the story Jesus tells someone who asks whether only a few will be saved.
The Gospel of Matthew (7:21-23; 25:31-46) tells a similar story and we are thereby reminded that simply knowing the Lord is not enough to be saved. Jesus tells the man to enter through the narrow gate. Further he is told to not wait too late, for there will come a time when the master will lock the door. We do not know the day or the hour whereupon Jesus will come the second time.
This passage and others in the gospels like it remind us of an uncomfortable, and possibly even disappointing, truth. The effective answer to the man’s question about salvation is that many will attempt it but not be able. And some of those who know the Lord, who ate and drank in his company, are those who will be shut out. In other words, it takes more than merely saying, “I believe.” Such a message is far from feel good, open wide, broad path to salvation that we might imagine. And the warning to those who know the Lord should fall squarely with us.
Still, those who will be saved may not be those who expect it, for in an echo of Mary’s canticle and early Gospel of Luke themes, there will be a reversal of fortune. Some who are last, will be first. And some who are first, will be last. Salvation is not limited to a particular group of people for many will come from all directions to recline at table in the kingdom of God.
A relationship with Christ is not an insurance policy whereby we pay our premiums and expect to receive a settlement when needed. This relationship with the Son of God is not transactional that we do x, y, and z and Jesus in return grants salvation strictly by our works. Salvation is a free gift, undeserved, no matter how much we feel we might deserve it. If we are not living the kingdom now, no matter of good work will help; if we do not believe now, no matter of good work will help.
The master locks the door on the evildoers, barring entry to them. The frightening thing is that some of those locked out know the Lord. Would they consider themselves evildoers? Not likely.
Are we open to disappointment? Or do we need to be prepared, manage our expectations, and know the given situation? Salvation is for all; many attempt to enter but some are simply not strong enough. Jesus urges his followers to “enter by the narrow gate,” but this constricted entrance leads to an abundant gathering that included people from the four corners of the world. All people are welcome in the kingdom of God. Not because of their lineage, race, gender, or ancestors, but because they have followed the narrow way of peace and love; the way of Christ.
Can we be found among the poor, vulnerable, and the lost? Do we offer welcome and hospitality to all we meet? We must not only eat and drink with our Lord, we must follow in his steps as well. This is what he expects. We are called to be kingdom people. We are called to make our religion – Catholicism – a way of life, not just a religion. We are also called to put forth the same radical love that Jesus put forth!
Let us pray.
That the church be a sign and symbol of inclusiveness of the kingdom of God. We pray to the Lord.
That the nations will come together to stop the fire raging in the Amazon and protect three million species of plants and animals, and the one million indigenous people that rely on the rainforest and is vital to their existence – and ours. We pray to the Lord.
That those who experience racism, prejudice, and bias of any kind in daily life have their dignity and worth as children of God recognized by all they encounter. We pray to the Lord.
That we all here be given the drive to embrace radical hospitality – like the radical love of Jesus – for the kingdom of God and become kingdom people. We pray to the lord.
We pray for those who may feel they are beyond God’s mercy, that His great love be revealed to them and that they may know the welcome extended to those who change their ways. We pray to the Lord.
For our Church, that we may be as welcoming as Jesus was to outcasts, sinners, and all who approach with a sincere heart. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, we ask for grace to enter through the narrow gate. May your Holy Spirit guide each of us to live with a life of forgiveness, compassion, self-control and acts of service so that our lives may manifest the reign of your kingdom. Faithful and merciful God, you call all people to yourself. Hear our prayers that we might build communities of welcome and refuge. We further ask, Heavenly Father that you inspire in us to not just seek your kingdom on Sundays, but each and every day and to make purposeful efforts to set aside time to sit with you in prayer and acts of faith directed toward you. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA.