Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 21 August 2016 (Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30.Find the readings here
One of the people following Jesus on his way to Jerusalem asks him: “Will only a few people be saved?” Jesus’ reply is hardly reassuring. He talks about a narrow door that even those why try might not be able to enter. Whatever happened to the gracious offer of salvation to all who call on the name of the Lord?! The questioner seems to be concerned with insider / outsider divisions. Are we a small elite group, or is the circle drawn wider? Jesus doesn’t answer in those terms. Instead, he exhorts his hearers to commit to the hard work that following him involves. It isn’t about being ‘in’ or ‘out’ with God or about getting one’s ticket sorted for heaven. We are called to live Kingdom lives, to enter already into the new life that Jesus brings, to experience the salvation of being radically transformed as individuals and as community. Jesus is all too aware that very few, even of those who claim to know and follow him, are actually committed to making that journey with him.
What do we mean when we call ourselves “Christian”? Are we really following Jesus? Jesus warns against assuming too easily that we know him. So much of what is done today in the name of Jesus is an absolute contradiction of God’s Good News in Jesus Christ. Jesus cannot be domesticated or made to follow our agendas. Invoking his name for projects that do not reflect the Kingdom values that he lived and taught is blasphemy. I know that I am not sounding very gracious. But the stakes are high. I am utterly convinced that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is very serious, then, when those who ‘claim’ Jesus are actually obscuring and distorting that Way, Truth and Life and making it difficult for people to recognise the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of how seriously a good father takes the training of his children. If the Church is the sacrament of Christ in the world, in other words, a sign and a source of encounter with the Risen Christ, then surely it matters to God what the Church communicates and models to the rest of the world. We need to take very seriously our calling to live lives that are rooted in and reflective of Jesus Christ.
To go back to the original question that is posed to Jesus, will only a few be saved? Jesus returns to a picture that would be very familiar to his hearers, of the glorious messianic banquet at the end of the age, where God’s People would sit down to eat with all the saints who had gone before them. Some purists thought that only a small, holy remnant of the People of God would be included in that eschatological feast, others were more generous and believed that most or all of Israel would be there. Jesus, echoing the prophets, challenges this exclusivist vision in its narrow or broader form, and says that there will be people from all corners of the world flocking to the banquet. This is an upside-down Kingdom, where the first are last, and the last first. Jesus isn’t saying that it is only the few elite who manage to enter the narrow door who will enter the Kingdom. The race isn’t for the strong, but for those of us with drooping hands and weak knees, who listen to Jesus and who take the next wobbly step on the journey.