21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 – Year C
21 August 2016
Once a friend of mine was in a Post Office in Nigeria waiting to buy stamps. The woman behind him tapped him on the shoulder and asked him ‘Are you saved?’ ‘What do you mean’ he replied? She then said ‘You need to be baptised in the name of Jesus and so become a Born Again Christian, otherwise you won’t be saved’. Obviously anyone not belonging to her belief system couldn’t be saved. Unfortunately we sometimes meet Catholics who believe that Buddhists, Muslims, non-believers cannot be saved either.
In the gospel today when Jesus is asked ‘will only a few people be saved?’ he does not answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Rather he invites people to enter the narrow gate. What does he mean? Well, the opening of today’s gospel gives us the key to understand Jesus’ answer. He is making his way to Jerusalem where we know he will die. In other words regardless of the cost he is determined to do his Father’s will. Those who try to do likewise and attempt to be true to what Jesus asks will join him in heaven.
The little parable that follows uses the image of a door. The master has locked the door and people come along and ask that the door be opened to allow them in. Twice the master replies that he does not know where they come from. But they claim that they ate and drank in his company and he taught in their streets. Obviously that is not enough. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says ‘Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of my Father but he/she who does the will of my Father in heaven’.
Jesus is telling us clearly that labels are not enough: those like Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, Born Again can lead us to be complacent, and to take things for granted because we bear a certain religious label. Remember Jesus was speaking to his Jewish hearers and especially to the religious leaders like the Pharisees, the Scribes and the Pharisees. These were convinced beyond doubt that only Jews could be saved. Not only Jews but the Jews who followed the Law exactly as they interpreted it. That is why they were determined to get rid of Jesus. He was acting like an outsider. He broke the Sabbath from time to time, he did not always uphold their religious traditions. He touched lepers and ate with people they called public sinners. He allowed women to go about publicly with him, even allowing women of bad repute to touch him. So he broke many taboos and customs.
We might think that Jesus was giving us a new teaching in this regard but the first reading today from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah says that the Lord will come to gather the nations of every language. And he is not talking just about Israelites. The Good News of today’s gospel is that God wants all people to be saved, irrespective of religious labels. Anyone who acts in a loving manner, following his/her conscience and guided by the Spirit even if not formally acknowledged will be part of God’s kingdom.
Speaking again about the image of a door, we may have heard the story of the painting in Westminster Abbey in London of Christ carrying a lantern and he is knocking at a door. When it was unveiled the first time people were full of praise for it. Then one person noticed that there was no door handle on the door. The painter agreed because he intended it that way. He says the door actually portrays the human heart that is closed and can only be opened from the inside.
Each one of us has the capacity to allow Jesus Christ into our hearts or we can keep him out. The choice is ours. Likewise regarding God’s house God doesn’t lock us out of his house. We do it ourselves by the choices we make in life. It is not enough to say we heard of him, knew about him. To enter demands going through the narrow gate – the gate of love, forgiveness, compassion, living in peace with others, sharing what we have. All this far from easy, that is why Jesus says that many will try and enter and won’t succeed.
But entry into God’s house by the narrow gate is possible for each one. The secret is to have the humility to knock on God’s door and ask God to allow us in. The narrow gate reminds us that salvation cannot be obtained through our own strength alone. When Christ knocks on the door of our hearts he is asking us to allow him to journey with us, to call on his help freely offered. Let us be on our guard against complacency lest we think that names like Catholic, Christian, Buddhist etc are enough. ‘By their fruits you shall know them’, Jesus once said.
God passionately wants us all to be in his kingdom. Jesus tells us not to worry, that in his Father’s house there are many mansions. There is enough room for us all. But we can refuse the invitation to enter. If we truly appreciate God’s incredible love for us, we will try with the help of the Holy Spirit to enter by the narrow gate, to follow him closely. It is the best way of saying ‘thank you’ to him for his call and choice of us.
“Lord, never let us take you for granted. May our lives of service, of following you closely be our thank you for your choice of us. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA