The Lord concludes his series of “shock preaching” today with a big bang by dousing us with a big disappointment…
Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’”Luke 13:23-25
It is very disappointing that after joining Jesus as he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem these past four Sundays in taking into our hearts his many earth-shaking lessons about the “end” only to find out that we could end up being locked out of the door to heaven. More shocking than the lessons last week is the disturbing revelation today that we have to be strong enough to enter through the narrow gate to eternal life.
How strong? We really do not know. But, we have learned from the Old Testament of the need to patiently obey and faithfully keep the commandments of God while the gospels remind us clearly to deny ourselves and carry our crosses even up to the point of dying with Christ.
Very difficult, huh…? And here’s more! Striving hard to enter the “banquet hall of heaven” is keeping in mind the important lessons we have heard these past three Sundays: life does not consist of possessions but of what matters to God (Lk.12:15,21; Aug. 04); that we must always gird our loins to be ready for death that comes like a thief at night (Lk.12:35,39; Aug.11); and, most of all, we have to go through our own passion and death like Jesus to be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit to bring the peace of Christ into world (Lk.12:49-51; Aug. 18).
It is useless to count how many would be saved for there is enough room for us all in heaven. Through the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, God wants us all to be with him in heaven despite his knowledge of our sins by sending us his Son Jesus Christ!
Thus says the Lord: I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.Isaiah 66:18
See again in our gospel today an apparent contradiction in the teachings of our Lord like last Sunday with his bringing of fire and division among us. When Jesus refused to give that man a definitive answer to his question “if only a few people would be saved”, the Lord in fact revealed something deeper than the initial disappointment we have felt about the gate of heaven being narrow that would be closed when the time comes. Again, he mentions the Eucharist, our Sunday Mass as the wonderful opportunity to be strengthened in order to get inside the heavenly banquet.
“And 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. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”Luke 13:29-30
It is during the Sunday Mass when the Lord gathers us all together after a very difficult and disappointing week to refresh us, to strengthen us for another week of hurdling more problems, more trials in life. This is why before receiving him, we say, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The Father gave us his Son Jesus Christ so we may have that strength needed to enter the narrow gate to heaven by doing more loving service to others, being kind and forgiving, being honest and generous. Yes, these are easier said than done but doable in Christ.
What is so surprising in our many experiences are the many times when in our many disappointments Jesus comes to guide us to new doors, new routes and new openings that mysteriously lead to new life for us!
Brothers and sisters: You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?Hebrews 12:5-7
That is the mystery of God’s universal plan of salvation for us: the path may be filled with so many hardships and obstacles, the gate may be so narrow and difficult to pass through but he has made it possible for us to make it through by sending us Jesus Christ our Lord in leading this way to the heavenly Jerusalem. Authentic faith always involves pains and sufferings. When we embrace death like Jesus Christ, we also ensure life.
In every setback in life, we only have two choices always: either to be better or bitter. Choose to be better and that can only be through the narrow door of Jesus Christ by letting go of our anger and hatred, resentment and bitterness to give way to joy and peace, love and forgiveness. That is when God begins to surprise us!
The author of Amazing Grace, John Newton was once challenged by a man after he had delivered a homily about heaven. Remember that Newton, as he claimed in Amazing Grace, was a “wretch” being a former slave trader after being a slave himself.
Newton was asked by a man to give something that would surprise him when he gets to heaven.
The former wretch replied that there would be three great wonders in heaven: first, he would see many people he never expected to be there; second, he would not find many church-goers he expected to see there; and third – which is the biggest surprise of all – is to find himself there in heaven when he knows very well his sinfulness.
Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, we are all sinners, now feeling disappointed with so many things in life. Just strive to be good and better persons as we celebrate every Sunday the Lord’s Supper and he will do the rest. And be ready to be surprised even before going to heaven! Amen.