Twenty-first Sunday of the Year (C)
Today’s Gospel reading gave us an account of Jesus’ teaching as He was passing through towns and villages on His way to Jerusalem. He knew that He was walking towards His death by crucifixion at Roman hands in that supposedly Holy City, and there is noticeable urgency and solemnity about His words and bearing: words that demand our most serious attention and deserve our most sincere and humble trust and compliance, and a bearing that brooks no idle questioning. Again, His words stress that all of us have but a limited time at our disposal – and how heart-felt were those words on His lips at that time -- so limited an opportunity to prepare well for the coming of God’s salvation, before the door, the gate, opening onto the festive celebration of that coming will be closed definitively, while His very bearing underlines the fact that the only valid title for entry there will involve deep sincerity of heart responding with spiritual obedience to the truth: mere past familiarity with what is holy, mere former acquaintance with the truth will not suffice.
So, as Jesus walked steadfastly towards Jerusalem with crowds thronging round Him -- as would Roman soldiers soon be doing for a far different purpose -- someone cried out, perhaps like a modern-day reporter trying to get an exclusive statement:
Sir, will there be only a few saved?
Jesus, as was His wont in such cases, gave no direct answer; even Peter, later asking a question of Him concerning his friend and junior Apostle John’s destiny, would find Jesus -- though both were well-loved and highly regarded disciples of His -- tight-lipped and disinclined to indulge irrelevancies, saying, ‘How does that concern you?’ Today, His reply was equally direct but also more enigmatic:
Strive to enter through the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be able.
Essentially Jesus’ answer would the same in both cases: How does what you are asking about concern YOU?
The big difference however is that now it is the Jesus Who is about to suffer most dreadfully responding; later, when replying to Peter, it would be the risen – no longer under pressure – Jesus. And so, whether under great stress or at victorious ease Jesus’ attitude is the same and His words are, therefore, all the more important and reliable: ‘Try your best now … your very best’, because only your best will be good enough to enable you to enter by the narrow door. Notice, our Lord gives no false impression, no glossy picture, no facile encouragement, the way to salvation is a narrow door. He does not opine, He knows, and therefore He says ‘it IS a narrow door. Salvation concerns eternal and heavenly glory, peace, happiness and fulfilment, it CANNOT come cheap!
Many will attempt to enter but will not be able because they did not make their attempt seriously enough, had no true love for God:
‘I will think about it later … I really don’t want to think about it at all, so I’ll put it off now and maybe I’ll be taken by surprise, I really would like to die not having to think!
Others are satisfied by what people generally think; especially they like to think on the voluminous words of praise for the dead heard on TV, telling how the dead persons had been, every one of them, truly wonderful persons! Now that sort of language is understandable to a degree as an expression of lost love from bereaved ones ... but for anyone willing to live their life thinking, embracing, hoping for, relying on, such generous insincerity about themselves when dead is supremely foolish; lavish specious praises clothed in no-longer-believed-in Christian terms mean so very, very, little: ‘He would help everyone; would give to anyone in need; never hurt a single person; all who knew her loved her and had nothing but good to say about her ….’
Yet others like to indulge their vaguely remembered Christian thoughts about God: surely, He is good, forgiving, Christians and especially Catholics are always speaking about that! How then could He not accept me at the last minute if I arrange things so as to be able to make a final attempt to say and possibly do the right thing? But Jesus, Who was a supremely sincere Man warns against any such detestable faithlessness and insincerity:
After the Master has locked the door, then you will stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ He will say, ‘I do not know where you are from’
Of course, their retort is immediate:
You taught in our streets ... we ate and drank in Your company!
It was true, they had often heard Him teaching, but they had, in fact, never given it much thought, they had always seemed to have more important things on their minds in those days; they had indeed shared in the food and drink at religious festivals, but they had been present at such festivals for worldly motives and had never gone away spiritually refreshed; what they had received had been nothing more than ordinary food and drink for them.
But now, they know that they can never receive a God-given understanding that fills and rejoices saintly Christian minds, they can never share meaningfully at those religious festivals of yore, never know the spiritual hope those celebrations nourished:
There will be weeping and grinding of teeth!
Notice, dear People of God, that ‘grinding of teeth’. That is not the weeping of true repentance but a weeping from blind frustration and hatred as those locked outside outside peep into the festal hall and see
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God.
Those, of course, are their own ancestors, their own teachers ... and it is they who should be there with them, but instead they can see strangers from all over the world happy and fulfilled there. Oh, how dreadful! Those unworthy and wretched strangers and foreigners are filling their places! Yes, they grind their teeth, an imitation of some snarling beast, because all pretence is now lifted up, taken off, and thrown away, and they are beginning to show their true colours with very bitter, bitter, tears and blind fury: children of the devil by their very own free-will-in-all-things design and purpose, no children of the God Whose love they ignored, Whose will they rejected, and Whose eternally fulfilling purpose and plan for them they so miserably despised and ultimately rejected.
Jesus tells us, dear People of God, that this can happen to anyone who does not, that is, refuses to believe; and that, on the other hand, all things are possible for God with those who, seeing the vision of His beauty in Jesus, God-made-man, believe:
Those who are now last will be first, and those who are now first will be last.