Entrance Antiphon: Ps 86(85):1-3 — “Turn Your ear, O Lord, and answer me; save the servant who trusts in You, my God. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to You all the day long.”
First Reading: Is 66:18-21 — “They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 117:1, 2 — “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”
Second Reading: Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 — “Those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines.”
Alleluia: Jn 14:6 — Alleluia, alleluia. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father, except through Me.” Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Lk 13:22-30 — “They will come from east and west and recline at table in the Kingdom of God.”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 104(103):13-15 — “The earth is replete with the fruits of Your work, O Lord; You bring forth bread from the earth and wine to cheer the heart.”
Imagine the following scene – there is a group of newly arrived, who just entered the Pearly Gates and are being escorted to their nice accommodations in heaven. They follow along after their guide filled with awe at the beauty and wonders they see. Then, unexpectedly their guide halts, taps his finger on his lips and whispers, “Ssh, be quiet now until we pass the next area. That room we’re passing is filled with Catholics and they think they are the only ones here in heaven so we don’t want to disillusion or disappoint them.”
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” The question about who or how many will be saved is a prompt for us to examine our answer to the same question. We don’t know who asks Jesus the question and we don’t know why that individual asked the question or what the individual hoped to get as an answer.
Today’s readings remind us that no one is to be excluded from the Kingdom for all peoples are called to proclaim the praises of the Lord and confess His holy name. No ethnic or religious group possesses exclusive rights to the Kingdom.
So let’s posit some present-day, imaginary but realistic, people who might ask Jesus the same question. First, we have a successful business man who has thrived in the capitalistic world. His assumption is that, just like here, those who work hard get the spoils ... in other words, they get the rewards. He goes to church every week. He gives to the poor when asked ... He sings in the choir ... He watches his kid’s ball games. You get the idea ... he is a very public person and does everything for show. Apparently he hasn’t heard about or maybe he has forgotten Jesus’ story about the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple.
Second possible stand-in questioner is someone who feels that those people who do wrong here, commit crimes, etc., must be punished here and in the next world. He is glad that those who got away with stuff in this life will be caught in the next. So, he is happy to hear the image of a narrow gate.
And so we come to possible questioner number three. The next stand-in is the softhearted parent who loves her kids even when they goof off. She feels that God must be at least as forgiving as she is. She is happy to learn about people who come from all directions and backgrounds.
Well, let’s lump all the possible questioners into groups. What kind of groups? How about groups of people who believe in God? We will refer to those groups as churches. Church A is made up of folks who feel that the definition of church is a group of saved people. “Are you saved, brother?” they might ask you. How would you answer? “Sure, I am” or “Don’t know, but sure do hope so,” or “Ask my wife, my kids, my fellow workers, my neighbors ... they can give you the answer.”
So, let’s go down the street to church B. They don’t feel that a church is a group of saved folks. They know they are made up of saints and sinners. They think of the church not as a group of saved people but as a group of people who believe in a saving God. This crowd recognizes that we cannot buy or earn our way into heaven. For them, going to church is not a guarantee or a ticket to heaven. They hope that their church-going will lead them to a better knowledge and love of God and neighbor. They realize that their chances of living their ideals is enhanced by the example of others. They seek the support of others. The way they seek to live is as a response to a loving God, not simply or only to earn his love. They recall Jesus teaching in Matthew 25: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers...for I was hungry, thirsty, etc.," and they use that as a way to chart their own lives.
Today in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that there are those who will say, “We ate and drank in your company and heard your teaching in our streets.” And we see the response. Knowing the outcome of that argument should be an eye-opener ... on the one hand, to avoid complacency and on the other to avoid judging others. The anonymous questioner in today’s Gospel is a stand-in for us. Be careful, because today Jesus teaches that getting through to narrow minds is as difficult as getting through narrow gates ... and yet, it’s not going to be a cake walk either ... what we say, what we do, how we act beyond these four walls ... how we love God and how we love neighbor ... will chart our course as well.
As we conclude the Liturgy of the Word and move toward the Eucharistic meal, we should rejoice when we see many brothers and sisters sharing with us and we should also look forward to a greater crowd at the heavenly banquet. The door is wide open. The table is set. Jesus Christ is the narrow gate. Ultimately, we need to believe in Him and we need to follow His example ... and we need to realize that doesn’t mean just the parts we like or the parts we choose. In the final analysis, it is up to each of us to do what we need to do in order to be there.