HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (AUGUST 21)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Today’s readings are awfully difficult ones, and ones we might find a little scary as well. It is still Good News, but not obviously for everyone!
Let us put the gospel In context first. Luke begins by reminding us that we are getting closer to Jerusalem. We already, with Jesus, know what will happen there, but as it gets closer, Jesus makes us more and more aware of the impending coming of the kingdom and also of the final judgment.
A follower asks a question, a common trick in Luke to get Jesus talking on the subject, and the question is “Will only a few be saved?” Will only a few enter the kingdom? That’s a good question, one I’m sure we all would like to know the answer to because it affects us personally. Are we going to get in? Jesus’ answer is sort of a summary for us of the requirements of salvation. Jesus first talks about the difficulty in getting into the kingdom. It is isn’t automatic. It is a narrow door. Elsewhere it is referenced as the Eye of the Camel which was a very narrow doorway of an alley into Jerusalem.
I find this a difficult reference because if we have this really narrow door that we have to squeeze to get into, who will not be able to get in? The overweight person, the muscular person, the crippled person? I don’t think we can then take this literally. But what if we take it symbolically, and say that Jesus himself is the door to the kingdom? That might be one interpretation. Remember, Jesus was addressing this to Jewish followers. Many Jews felt that because they were Jewish and followed the laws, they had already had access to or gone through the door to salvation. But Jesus says that they were not already in the kingdom and many of them would not be because they hadn’t recognized Jesus for who he was even though they heard him and saw him. Even more shockingly, Jesus says that non-Jews will get into the kingdom.
This interpretation seems to fit the parable that Jesus tells right after the statement of entering the narrow gate. The owner of the house, God, will close the door. In other words, there will be a point when we are judged, the end of time as we know it. The time is up and we must be accounted for. Some have already entered the kingdom. We note that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets are already there. Presumably the saints and many who were martyred or simply led good lives.
But outside the door, the Jews who did not accept Jesus knock on the door and are not recognized. They may have eaten and drunk with Jesus but there was no conversion. In Jesus’ words, they are ‘evildoers’. But the door isn’t closed for everyone. All sorts of people for the four corners of the earth will come and be admitted, presumably because they have been good, moral people, even if they didn’t know Jesus. We might also note that the purpose of the first reading today from Isaiah was to show that the prophets recognized that the Gentiles could also be saved. God says, in Isaiah, “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see my glory.”
Jesus final statement probably refers to the Jews who were the first choice for salvation, but many of them will be the last.
So, for us, the narrow door should mean that being a Christian is not an easy task despite Jesus saying that his yoke is easy and his burden light. It takes a certain amount of courage and discipline to navigate through a world that seems fraught with evil sometimes. It is difficult to keep faith in such times. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews today also talks about discipline though he prefers to see it as God’s discipline rather than self-discipline. Paul says, “the Lord disciplines the one whom [the Lord] loves.” It is a loving discipline that a parent would show to a child. Paul wants us to look on our sufferings as parental corrections which will make us better people and make us peaceful and righteous. That is where the self-discipline lies. It is in lifting your drooping hands, strengthening your weak knees, and walking a straight path. It is in healing what is wrong with us, with faith that everything will come out right in the end.
This week, take a few minutes to think about the path your life has and is taking. How do you react to setbacks, sickness, deaths, depression? Does your faith in Jesus allow you to squeeze through that tight door and find peace on the other side, or do you wallow and wail on the other side without even trying? A few weeks ago we heard Jesus say that we had to batter God’s door down in asking for something, like children pestering their parents until they broke down and gave it to them. Perhaps that should be our key in suffering. Batter heaven with prayer and squeeze through that door. Then maybe we can live in some of the peace of the kingdom to come, and Jesus recognizing us, and saying “Come on in!”
And for us, that is the Good News of our salvation we hear today!