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21st Sunday - 25 August 2013

Is 66: 18-21, Heb 12: 5-7, 11-13; Lk 13: 22-30
Someone once said to Padarewski, the great pianist, "Sir, you are a genius." He replied, "Madam, before I was a genius I was a drudge." He continued: “If I missed practice one day, I noticed it; if I missed practice two days, the critics noticed it; if I missed three days, my family noticed it; if I missed four days, my audience noticed it. It is reported that after one of Fritz Kreisler's concerts a young woman said to him, "I would give my life to be able to play like that." He replied, "That's what I gave.” The door is narrow. Why should we think we can "drift" into the Kingdom of God? The Christian life is a constant striving to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it. We need to strive because there are forces of evil within us and around us, trying to pull us down.

Many years ago, an editorial in the magazine, War Cry put it like this: "A loose wire gives out no musical note; but fasten the ends, and the piano, the harp or the violin is born. Free steam drives no machine. But hamper and confine it with piston and turbine and you have the great world of machinery made possible. The unhampered river drives no dynamos, but dam it up and we get power sufficient to light a great city. So our lives must be disciplined if we are to be of any real service in this world." If you are going to walk with Jesus, there are some things you will need to leave behind.
As he continued his fateful journey to Jerusalem, Jesus answered the question, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" by answering four presumed questions: Who will be saved? How? Why? When? Jesus clearly explained that any one who followed him through the narrow gate of sacrificial serving and sharing love would be saved. Jesus also admonished his followers to concentrate on their own salvation instead of worrying about other peoples' salvation In the first reading, Isaiah's prophecy speaks to the returning Babylonian exiles some 400 years later, telling them that salvation was not a Jewish monopoly, and that was why Yahweh would also welcome the pagans into Judaism. The prophet’s great book ends as it began, with a vision of all the peoples of the world streaming toward Jerusalem, acknowledging and praising the God of Israel. In the second reading, exploring with his readers the consequences of Christian commitment, St. Paul explained “the narrow gate” of Jesus as pain and suffering, resulting from God’s loving disciplining of His children. The responsorial psalm, "Go out to all the world and tell the Good News,” reflects the mission of God’s chosen people to be instruments of salvation to the whole world.
The first reading: Is. 66: 18-21: Isaiah answered prophetically a similar question about salvation, which would be put forward some 200 years later by the Jews who returned to Jerusalem in 540 BC after forty-seven years in exile. Some of them brought back to Jerusalem their pagan wives and in-laws who had been converted to the Jewish faith. The question was whether Yahweh would accept these former pagans along with His chosen people. The third part of Isaiah's prophecy (chapters 56-66), answers this question. In the prophet's message, Yahweh declared that He was the Lord of all peoples rather than of the Jews alone. In fact, some of these converts were to be missionaries to other pagans. Even the hereditary posts of priest and Levite could be held by these outsiders. (The Jewish priests were born into the priesthood. No Jewish man born outside of a priestly family could ever dream of standing at the altar and offering sacrifice to Yahweh. But Isaiah foresaw that even the non-Jews would be invited to join that highly restricted ministry!)
Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13: The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, considering the “narrow gate theology,” gives it a different twist (Heb 12:5-7, 11-13). For Paul, the road less often taken and the gate less often chosen are the paths of God's discipline. The pain and suffering Christians experience are parts of God’s discipline, given in love. The experience is similar to that of a child, disciplined by loving parents who desire only to help him grow, mature, and become responsible. God’s discipline can be appreciated only by those who regard their relationship with God as that of a child to a parent (Proverbs 3: 11-12). Unfortunately, we often take God’s discipline differently. Some of us meet God’s discipline with a resigned acceptance that sees no other possible course. Others gulp it down like a bitter pill so as to be done with it as soon as possible. Some respond with self-pity which, in the end, leads to their collapse. Still others become resentful and turn away from God. However, there are some, who can lift their spirits above present trials and look beyond to the peace and justice (v. 11) which are the fruits of God’s discipline.
“Are you saved”? When the questioner asked Jesus “How many will be saved?” he was assuming that the salvation of God's Chosen People was virtually guaranteed, provided they kept the Law. In other words, the kingdom of God was reserved for the Jews alone, and Gentiles would be shut out. The Jewish catechism, Mishnah, taught: “All Israelites have a share in the world to come.” But the author of the Apocalypse of Ezra declared, “this age the Most High has made for the many, but the age to come for a few” (4 Ezra 8:1). Hence, Jesus' answer must have come as a shock. Jesus affirms that God wants all persons to enjoy eternal life with Him. But he stresses the need for constant fidelity and vigilance throughout our lives. Thus, Jesus reminds us that, even though God wants all of us to be saved, we all need to work at it. Entry into God’s kingdom is not automatically granted, based purely on religious faith or nationality, so we cannot presume on God’s mercy and do nothing by way of response to God’s invitation. What Jesus is saying is that salvation is not guaranteed for anyone. "Outside the Church there is no salvation" was a rallying cry for centuries. But Jesus declares that nobody can claim that he is “saved,” possessing a "visa" to heaven. How many will be saved in the end is a decision that rests with God, and depends on whether His Justice or His Mercy finally prevails. Jesus came to bring God's love and freedom to the whole world. The message of his Gospel is that there is not a single person, not a single people, nation, race, or class, which will be excluded from experiencing the love and liberation that God offers. Hence, the role of the Christian community, from the beginning until now has been, first and foremost, to proclaim to the whole world the Good News of God's love for the world, and then to show this Good New to be real, reflected in the loving, sharing and serving lives of individual Christians. So to be "saved" means to live and to die in a close, loving relationship with God and with others.
Jesus issued a series of sayings and parables that emphasized the difficulty involved in entering God’s kingdom, and he stressed the need for constant fidelity and vigilance throughout our lives. Jesus also insisted that salvation was an urgent matter -- the "narrow gate" was open now but would not remain so indefinitely (“the master of the house will lock the door”). Then he added two conditions: a) Eternal salvation was the result of a struggle: "keep on striving to enter.” (The Greek word
means strenuous effort in athletic competition. See I Cor 9:25; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). It is like the effort one would make in swimming against the current in a river. A man must ever be going forward or else he will go backward. b) We must enter through the "narrow gate" of sacrificial and selfless service. (Confer Mt. 7:13-14; Jer. 21:8; Deut. 30: 15-20; Joshua 24:15).
The narrow gate: Most cities of the ancient world were surrounded by walls that had large gates in them. Jerusalem had about twelve gates that were large enough for two-way traffic. People moved through these gates to do their business, to shop, and to visit their friends. These gates, however, were closed at night, in case the city came under attack by an invader. There were also smaller gates through which individual citizens could be allowed into the city by the guards without exposing the city to danger. These smaller, or narrower gates were what Jesus was talking about. These smaller gates were like turnstiles – only one person at a time could enter through them.
Jesus repeats Isaiah's image of a final banquet. He does not want his followers to presume they can just slip through to enter his Father’s house. Jesus is not looking for casual acquaintance from us but for real dedication. The crowd will press for entry, but the door will be too narrow to admit all. The less alert will be forced to stay outside and appeal in vain for entry. They will say that they ought to be allowed to enter because they were acquainted with Jesus during his earthly life The irony of Jesus' image is that the narrow gates were the proper way to enter the kingdom precisely because they were just wide enough to receive a single person – anyone who was willing to do sacrificial service for the glory of God. In other words, entering through the narrow gate denoted a steady obedience to the Lord Jesus -- overcoming all opposition and rejecting every temptation. It was the narrow way of unconditional and unremitting love. Mere faith in Jesus and membership in His Church by Baptism could not guarantee salvation. Some of the Fathers of the Church interpreted the narrow door as that small place in the heart where one says "yes" or "no" to what one knows to be true. It is the one place through which no external force can enter to shape or coerce one's choices. This place is what Teresa of Avila called the "center of the soul" wherein God dwells. That means that Jesus is the narrow gate, the way by which any person must enter the heavenly city.
“Being saved’ is not a Protestant idea. Protestants, in fact, took the idea from Catholics. But in Catholic theology, "being saved" is the end result - seeing God face to face in heaven, and not a ready-made “passport and visa” as some of our Protestant brothers claim. Jesus explains that salvation begins with faith. But it is also the result of how that faith is lived, as is seen in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets. We, too, believe that we cannot “earn” our way into heaven by good works (this is the Pelagian heresy, condemned by the Council of Carthage in A.D. 418), but we also believe that we must allow God to work in our lives through His grace, a grace that is reflected in our actions.

Hence, our answer to the question: “Have you been saved?” should be: “I have been saved from the penalty of sin by Christ’s death and resurrection. I am being saved from the power of sin by the indwelling Spirit of God. I have the hope that I shall one day be saved from the very presence of sin when I go to be with God.” It is through the grace of Christ that we are able to live out His life in us -- a grace that is fortified every time we participate in the Holy Eucharist, are reconciled with God and meditate on His Word. Bishop Sheen says that we will have three surprises in heaven: 1) There will be many there whom we never expected; b) there will be many absent whom we expected to see; and c) we will be surprised to find that we ourselves have gotten in. The real question is: who will enter God's kingdom? There is only one answer: those who choose the narrow gate, and they will come from east and west, and will eat together, live together and enjoy God's beatific vision for all eternity.

Life messages: 1) We need to make wise decisions and choose the narrow gate. God allows us to decide every day what road we will walk down and what gate we will choose. He encourages us, however, to choose His way: “Choose life” (Moses – Deut 30:19-20); “Choose this day whom to serve” (Joshua – 24:15); ”If God is Lord, follow Him” (Elijah – 1 Kings 18:21); “There are two paths: one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two is great.”(Didache); "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). This means a consistent denial of self and the steady relinquishing of sinful pleasures, pursuits, and interests. St. Paul lists these sins in Galatians 5:19-21: “The works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, and occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” Paul then enumerates "good works" that are representative of the "narrow road" and “narrow gate." These are “the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). In other words, the "narrow road" or "narrow gate" concerns our everyday living—our relationships with God and with one another. To enter the narrow gate involves being with the blessed ones (poor, peacemakers, persecuted, etc), being salt and light consistently, following Jesus’ radical way about murder/anger, adultery/lust, divorce, truth-telling, mercy over revenge, loving enemies. And it involves doing good deeds for the right reasons; it involves pursuing the kingdom and God’s justice instead of fame and fortune; and it involves not condemning the others. It involves repentance, obedience, humility, righteousness, truth and discipleship. Hence, we are to strive to enter through the “narrow gate” by prayer and supplication, diligently seeking deliverance from those things which would bar our entrance, and acquiring those things which would facilitate our entry
2) We need to check our track on a daily basis. The parable of the locked door warns us that the time is short. Each day sees endings and opportunities missed. “Opportunity will not knock twice at your door.” Remember the old "Examination of Conscience" we were asked to make at the end of each day, in which we ask God’s pardon for the faults and sins of the day? "How conscious was I this day of God's numerous gifts? How well did I respond to the opportunities to bear witness and serve in Jesus' name: to forgive, feed, clothe, and love those who entered my life? How much did I strive today to enter through the narrow gate of sacrificial love in action?'" We might conclude this self-examination with a short prayer: “I need you Jesus Christ. Grant me forgiveness for my sins. Make me a new person. I need your Holy Spirit to direct me, to strengthen me, so that I can walk in the narrow way and choose the narrow gate. I need you to change me from a self-centered, self-sufficient person into your wise servant.”

Back in 1994, 128 runners lined up to compete in the NCAA cross-country championship in Riverside, California. Unfortunately, one of the turns on the 10,000-meter course was not well-marked. Only five of the 128 runners stayed on the correct path. Mike Delcavo was the first runner to notice the problem. He began waving at the other runners to follow him, but most refused. Can you blame them? One-hundred-and-twenty-three runners took the wrong path, only five took the right one. What did the 123 think of Delcavo? He commented later, "They thought it was funny that I went the right way." (Leadership, Summer 1994, p. 49.) We all like to think that we're on the right path; what a rude awakening it would be to discover we aren't, if we take the broad way leading to eternal damnation.
(Source: Homilies of Fr. Anthony Kadavil)


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