Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Lord, Will Only A Few People Be Saved?" - Strive To Enter Through The Narrow Gate

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time  Year C  25 August 2013
CHRIST THE KING Parish, Evansville, Indiana                            
Gospel Luke 13:22-30

1. There is no doubt that some followers of Jesus realized that His teachings were rather difficult and there was a lot of uncertainty in being his disciples because someone asked: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” 

It is quite likely this was a question on a lot of the followers’ minds or being whispered among themselves, but only one had the courage to ask it.

But even though only one person asked the question, Jesus answered THEM in the plural: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. 

ASKING JESUS A QUESTION CAN BE DEADLY. OUR OLD IDEAS MIGHT BE challenged or shaken by getting us to really examine our faith, our own beliefs.

See how the person asks the question about others and see how Jesus then turns the question back to the questioner and has the person examine his own path: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

Are we on the narrow path? Jesus is quick to quench any judgmental attitude, especially any elitist attitudes that places oneself above or better than others.

Instead of asking “will many be saved?” the person asks: “Will only a few be saved?”  Was it because he only wanted a few to be saved?

It seems some of the disciples already began to approach the kingdom of God with a scarcity mindset that believes that there’s not enough for everyone to have a share.

Why, if we let “those other people” in, then some of us will be left out.
And one may wonder how they asked the question? Was it asked to make sure that only their select few friends, “our kind” of people were going to be saved? Certainly not those other people. Why, they don’t even speak English – I mean Hebrew.

I don’t think I could ever share heaven with him or her or those people.

And, you know, I could never spend eternity with those other people.

Strive to enter through the narrow gate. 

2. Isaiah proclaimed: “I come to gather nations of every language.” All the children of earth would be welcomed into covenant with God. So we know that it’s not just an ethnic thing.

But the people of Israel believed themselves to be the privileged “few”. Those who were unsaved included Gentiles, tax collectors, the unclean and the rest of the decent sinners.

Jesus turned their belief upside down and insisted that membership in the kingdom was not for the  righteous few who were certain that salvation was theirs simply because they were born into it.

Even if we think we know Jesus and walk with him, unless we have a change of heart, we too could lose our salvation.
Jesus reminds us that God cannot be confined to our 
categories of saved and unsaved.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” 

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate

3. JESUS never directly answers the question, does he? He turns the focus from a curiosity about the salvation of others, to concern about one’s own salvation…

When Jesus tells us to enter the narrow gate, he is saying the road to salvation is difficult; but he is not saying that only a few will be saved. 
But what he is saying is that there are some who will not make the necessary efforts at entering the kingdom.

Either they do not respond in a timely manner or else they think that they can casually sashay into the kingdom without serious commitment to the cause of discipleship.

Then those who expected to be admitted, “no questions asked” are turned away, while those looked down upon as outsiders are the ones who will be seated around the banquet table.

Yes, there will surely be some surprises in seeing who is saved and who is not. Some of the insiders, the religious elites, may well be locked out, and the outsiders, the outcasts will be welcomed in.

We cannot be a spiritual country club for the Catholic elite, but we must humble ourselves to serve the Word, become disciples, and evangelize the world with the good news. Otherwise we may become guilty of theological narcissism, and as Pope Francis cautions us: we run the risk of coming “isolated, sterile and sick Christians.” 

He coninues:  We cannot keep ourselves shut up in our parishes…when so many people are waiting for the Gospel…we must go out…to seek and meet the people…in the nooks and crannies of the streets” (Pope Francis).
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

4. Yet salvation requires more than a dip in the baptismal font, receiving communion once or twice a year, or being a mere acquaintance of Jesus or His Mother.

But some will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company.’ But he will reply, ‘I do not know you… Depart from me.

He even challenges the idea that just eating and drinking in Jesus’ company or gathering in his name each week is good enough to get to heaven.

So even just going to Mass isn’t enough. Hopefully, we are participating in Mass and not simply punching our ticket. Faith and church attendance must be viewed as more than some eternal fire insurance plan.

Unfortunately there are many practicing Catholics involved in parish activities who do not have a living relationship with God, with Christ.

Yet no matter how busy we are – no matter how much church work we’re doing, “if we’re too busy to pray, then we’re just too busy” (Pope Paul VI).

It is absolutely essential that each of us enter through that narrow gate of personal prayer – setting aside time for prayer and meditation. And when we seek holiness, then God’s grace will overflow to others

But we might say, “I was a lector!” “I was a Eucharistic Minister!” “I was an usher!” Or “I was a Deacon!

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate

So even if we know all about the faith, and know all about God, and even receive the sacrament of the holy Eucharist, unless our faith is a lived reality, unless we truly love as God is calling us to love, then we are deceiving ourselves and we run the risk of losing the kingdom and being estranged from the Lord.

Unless we spend time with the Lord in prayer and spend time seeking out the lost and forsaken to bring them to Christ, we will be strangers to the Lord, and be cast out into the darkness where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Narrow is the road that leads to life.

We are called to a personal relationship with Christ, called to be disciples; we have to pursue Christ on the narrow road and through the dark valleys to enter heaven.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

Enter through the narrow gate.

No one is going to just stumble into heaven; it is a struggle.


For the narrow gate…is Jesus Himself.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jeremiah and Jesus - Prophets of Truth: The Well and the Cross and our Baptismal Call

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time    Year C            18 August 2013

Here are the readings for the day:  
Jeremiah and Jesus - Prophets of Truth:
The Well and the Cross and our Baptismal Call

Imagine a young patriot, who loves his nation, and watches as political and economic powers come to ensnare his nation in a web of lies and secrecy and military alliances and covert operations. And then imagine that very disturbing truths are revealed to this young patriot that the average citizen has no information. So this young patriot dares speak the truth aloud, exposing the realities.

But because this young man tells the truth, he is then arrested and undergoes torture for what he knows to be wrong. He stands up to the powers of his day and dares speak the truth – a terribly inconvenient truth – that the powerful and complacent do NOT want to hear.  

This is what Jeremiah did in the first reading today.

King Zedekiah of Jerusalem was a puppet king of the King of Babylon who had seized control of Jerusalem and all of Judea.

Jeremiah was a true patriot who loved Israel and Jerusalem and saw how the people had broken their covenant with God.

The Lord revealed to the prophet Jeremiah that the people of Judea should not put their trust in a military empire.
Jeremiah fulfilled his role as prophet and spoke the Word of the Lord despite those who said he was “undermining their national security.”

King Zedekiah and his officials and the people would NOT listen to the word of the LORD from Jeremiah. And because the people trusted in war and political alliances rather than trusting in the LORD, Jeremiah declared that Jerusalem would fall to Babylon. 

That’s where we find ourselves in today’s first reading where the princes said to the king, “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing our soldiers and all the people; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” 

They wanted to kill Jeremiah because he spoke the truth. He was despised as an unpatriotic false prophet and declared guilty of treason.

So Zedekiah handed Jeremiah over to his cronies and they threw Jeremiah down a well.

But Jeremiah’s preaching was not merely a political attack on the state; it was a call to individuals to decide to serve either the Kingdom of God or the Empire of Men. Jeremiah’s cry was a call to conversion, repentance and reliance upon God.

Jeremiah was addressing a critical issue of his day – one that we also face: the idea of building a society cut off from God, cut off from the influence of faith, and trusting only in ourselves, our wealth, our power.

Yet we each have our own private alliances with sin. We all make deals with evil. We try to bargain with the devil. We play games with our demons, our sinfulness. We succumb to temptation and rationalize our sins away. We often want the easy way out, but spiritual formation and discipleship takes practice and discipline.

For instance, it’s easier to watch TV or get on Facebook than pray, go to Mass, pray our rosary, or volunteer somewhere. We often don’t want to fight that inner battle of placing ourselves in the hands of God.  

How many things take the place of God in our lives each day?

And so many of us, myself included, often engage in half-hearted worship and a lack-luster faithfulness to God and neighbor.

Jeremiah challenged false worship and the social policy of his day; reliance upon the empire rather than upon God.

The message is the same today.

Yet to proclaim this truth will cause us pain. Division. A sword. 

The Cross.

Jesus certainly disturbed the phony peace of the Roman Empire and the status quo of the religious establishment of his day.

Jesus spoke truth to power. And he, like Jeremiah, was arrested for his prophetic voice in the face of power and religious intolerance. Both Jeremiah and Jesus illustrate for us the personal cost that a decision for God can bring about.

Being a disciple of the Lord is not easy. Yet in our faithfulness the Lord will be with us; and though we may lose some friends, we will gain others, brothers and sisters in the Lord.

In the divine mystery, we will suffer. But if we suffer in our faith, and persevere in running the race, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will not lose heart in our struggle against sin.

* But as Jesus’ prophetic peacemakers, we will likely stir up trouble advancing the kingdom of God.

Yet we are called to bring peace. But to the world it will not look like peace. It is a peace that the world cannot give – or receive.

The world offers us a false peace without justice. But without justice there can be no true peace. So as prophets we must continue to resist our culture of violence, a culture of death, and war.

But when we fulfill our role as prophet, and stand up for what is right, we may suffer martyrdom. [None of us here in the U.S. have to fear for our lives in attending Mass like some of our brothers and sisters in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. We are not standing in a burnt out church this morning either].

Yet some of us may suffer a form of martyrdom by being ridiculed by our peers, even by our family members and fellow Catholics for our enthusiasm in taking Jesus at his word, whether it is in our defending the poor, taking a stand for justice, questioning American foreign policy or domestic policies, or even remaining true to our faith. 

We may be put to death socially. We may suffer a bloodless martyrdom of gossip. We may not be invited to any more of the social soirees.

We may be chastised for praying for or ministering to a man condemned for murder. We may be ridiculed for ministering to the marginalized and welcoming the immigrant [how dehumanizing is it to declare a human person an alien?] and embracing the unwanted, those considered less than human.

We may be judged by some believers because we continue to love a gay son or daughter, or continue to show compassion to the prodigals in our midst.

We may be ignored because we passed up a cocktail party to work the soup kitchen or attend a justice rally. We may be scorned because we choose mercy over judgment. 

Or we may be snubbed because of our defense of the unborn child, or our insistence that the death penalty ought to be abolished, or that war should be a last resort-if ever. 

The irony in this is that when we speak to these issues, and seek mercy and peace, we will likely be called disturbers of the peace.

And in our world, that’s enough to make you an enemy of the state.

And, sometimes, it’s enough to make you an outlaw in your own family.

May the grace of our baptismal call set us on fire as joyful prophets of the Lord!