Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time~ 25 August 2019
The question Jesus is asked in today’s Gospel, is one which many people would no doubt like answered. “Will many be saved, or only a few?” Is heaven just for an elite few, or does almost everyone get in? Some people’s optimistic thought is that everybody except a few very evil people, like Hitler, will be there. Others, hearing some of Jesus’s harsher statements about the commitment needed, worry that almost no one will get in.
So there seems to be a lot of interest in the question. And yet, Jesus doesn’t answer it! In effect, he tells us that it’s none of our business. Because the way the question is asked is, as so often, about others. Are that bunch over there going to be saved? Whereas the subject we should be paying attention to is ourselves. So Jesus tells the questioner to focus on their own call to enter the gates of the kingdom. Jesus makes it very clear that it is possible to fail, and that if we spend our time saying this one or that won’t get in, we may end up looking at them from the outside.
But it isn’t just a reminder of our own need to respond to the Lord’s call that Jesus points out. He also uses it as an opportunity to confirm something that the prophet Isaiah proclaims in the first reading. There is no people, no subset of humanity which is excluded from the possibility of salvation. Just as no one is guaranteed a place in heaven, because of their birth, or race, or even that they ate and drank with the Lord, so also no people are beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy.
It’s always tempting to speculate about others. Even St Peter did it: “What about him?”, speaking of St John. But the Lord’s response is always the one St Peter got. “What is that to you? You, follow me.” There are many things that can distract us from following the Lord. There are all sorts of difficulties and problems. But the greatest distractions are often the ones we create ourselves. And Jesus makes clear that trying to determine the fate of others is one of them.
Although there is quite a bit of severity in Jesus’s response, the sort of chastisement we hear of in our second reading, it is also a message of great hope. Everyone can hope for the kingdom to be theirs. No one is automatically excluded. For each of us there is the call to follow the Lord on a way which, we know, passes through the narrow gate into joy. And with God’s grace, all of us can.
Fr Chris Denham
Pastor, St John the Baptist, Parnell