Sunday 25 August 2019: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


Isaiah 66:18-21. Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13. Luke 13:22-30

The whole notion of ‘being saved’, salvation, is one that can be indeed difficult to even talk about. The disciples ask Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” And Jesus answers by saying “Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed”. Ant then he continues to tell the story of the Master locking the door and leaving outside those who expected they should be allowed enter, and instead welcoming inside many who they would have considered unworthy.

The questions that immediately come to mind are, what do we mean by being saved, where is this narrow door leading to, and what exactly is the narrow door. In general terms, being saved means being healed, made whole, being removed from a state of danger or peril to a haven of protection. In religious terms, it refers not only to wellbeing in this earthly life but also to life after death. Through all ages and all cultures, people have sensed the existence of a power greater than any human or material power and have looked to this power to understand how we can be saved. Today, in our increasingly secular western world, there are people who see no need for life after death and who believe that we must enjoy life while we live and accept that as the end. But for most, there is belief that those we have loved and gone before us continue to live and love, in a much more perfect state, beyond the sufferings and limitations of our earthly existence. As Christians, we believe we are called to know and love God and serve God’s Kingdom here on this earth which we will experience fully in the next, in the eternal Communion of God, where there is no pain or suffering.

In today’s first reading we hear that not only the Jews, but all people are called by God to God’s glory. Nobody is restricted from it. This would of course have come as a shock to the Israelites who believed it was only themselves who were the chosen people. In the Gospel Jesus gives a similar message: people from east and west, north and south, will be allowed into the Kingdom of God, while those who thought they were faithful children of Abraham, would be left outside! So too we might hear this message today: it is not because we are Christians or Catholics that we can assume we will enter God’s presence; we might indeed be surprised to find that Muslims, Buddhists, people of no religion as well as others we have been known to exclude from our Church, will be in heaven while we will be left outside!

Today’s readings are indeed challenging and call us to look closely at our presumptions, those notions of self-righteousness that make us look down on others, exclude others, judge others. Yes, Jesus says, the door to God’s Kingdom is narrow, but it is one that many will enter, people of all nations, religions, shapes and sizes, people who follow the way of Christ which is one of humility, love and service.

In today’s second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded that following the way of Christ can be painful. Just because we are baptised does not mean that we are Christ-like. Following Christ is a life-long learning process. As Pope Francis teaches in his encyclical Gaudete et Exsultate, God desires to save all people, both in this world and fully in the next. All people are called to wholeness (holiness) and holiness is incompatible with individualism, dogmatism, and sectarianism. We cannot be holy alone: we are called to always be concerned for others. We cannot be holy simply through knowing a set of beliefs or dogmas; our faith is something we live through our relationship with God and others. We cannot be holy if we are sectarian, if we consider ourselves a somehow perfect group and exclude others who are different.

Pope Francis tells us that we are all called to be holy and this is not something extraordinary, but it is to be lived in our own context, in our everyday lives, doing what little we can. “The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts…” (GE 11).

It is only God who saves, but God who is all loving and all merciful, desires to give us the grace to be Christ-like to others. “It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others” (GE 104). We are not called to be perfect, because only God is perfect, but we are called to strive to be holy. This is what is meant by striving to enter by the narrow gate.  May we each ask ourselves how, this week, we can be ‘holy’ and may we know God’s saving grace in our everyday lives as we share that grace with others.

Sr Kathleen McGarvey OLA
Published in The Furrow
July/August 2019, page 433