Scripture Readings: Book of the Prophet Isaiah 66:18-21; Letter to the Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Gospel According to Saint Luke 13:22-30
This Sunday in Ordinary Time directs our attention to God’s intention for the salvation of the human race in Jesus Christ. Expressed another way: everyone is called to God’s Kingdom. In the Gospel passage for this Sunday, the gift of salvation is described by Jesus as people coming “from the east and west, from the north and the south, and will take their place at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” That certainly sounds like an all-encompassing and marvelous reality!
Have you ever noticed that the first letter of the four directions of the compus, that is, north, east, west, south, spells the word, NEWS. The Good News for followers of Jesus is that in Christ the all the nations, from every direction, are to be saved, meaning no one is excluded from the possibility of sharing God’s life forever.
At the time of Jesus, and according to Jewish thought then, the chosen people, Israel as a body, would be saved. In the mind of Jesus and found in the words of today’s Gospel passage, mere membership in the chosen people is no guarantee of salvation. Conversely, not being part of the people of Israel is not an automatic exclusion from salvation.
Rather than preoccupation where numbers, “how many will be saved?”, Jesus emphasizes the more important point, namely, to make sure that we are on the path to salvation by lives on fire for the things of God.
Salvation, cannot be bought, inherited or stolen, but simply gained by a life of doing God’s will and living under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. For us this also means freely belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which Jesus founded. We are incorporated into the Church through Baptism and nourished by the other Sacraments of the Church. Admittedly, it takes time and persevering work to attain the fullness of God’s Kingdom, but it is not impossible.
Anything good worth having implies an effort in attaining. It is no different in our life in Christ. The worst mistake on the spiritual path is to become complacent, presuming we are “home safe,” simply by having been baptized and confirmed. These are important steps in the pilgrim way to God, but the spiritual life has be cultivated, lived out day by day, and not seen a some kind of “punch card” that we have in hand for a guaranteed entry into God’s Kingdom, Heaven as it is usually called.
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus speaks in terms of a “narrow door,” which leads to a banquet hall. It is metaphorical language used to describe something that in fact is indescribable. Nonetheless human language is needed to at least approximate the truths of our faith and the deeper mysteries that influence and shape our lives in Christ.
Jesus insisted during his public ministry that it was “doing the will of God” that mattered most and even blood relationship could not cancel the requirement of acting on God’s Word in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Expressed another way, our present activity is important and will determine whether or not we share in the banquet of Christ in the great future of his coming.
No one is forcing us into God’s House, but we are lovingly invited by God and drawn into the mystery of serving God and neighbor as our primary activities in this life. How easy to forget his and how challenging to do it well! Thankfully, in the Catholic tradition we have the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, where we receive God’s forgiveness of our sins, in our failures in faith, hope and love.
Jesus says in the Gospel that some who at present appear to be “last” will be first when the coming of Jesus in glory takes place. Conversely, some who are “first” now, in prestige, wealth or whatever form of worldly status, could ultimately be last or miss out in the coming of the Lord.
Implied in this message of Jesus is the answer to the original question about “how many” will be saved. We believe many will be saved and from all races. However, and most importantly, a clear call exists for everyone from everywhere to strive earnestly, throughout one’s life, to enter God’s banquet hall. This is best realized in doing God’s will day in and day out.
The biblical scholar, the late Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., comments on this Sunday’s Gospel text with these words:
“We must be willing to accept the sudden, unexpected turns of life, even to be at peace with our sinful, suffering moments, to be ready for the unplanned yet heroic demands of sickness and misfortune. When we seem to become the outcast, we are one with those who are coming from the ends of the earth and entering by the narrow door” (from “Biblical Meditations for Ordinary Time, Weeks 10 – 22,” Paulist Press, 1984, p. 387).