21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C (Lk 13:22-30)

When someone asked Jesus “Lord, will only a few people be saved”, he ignored the question, and in his response, left it unanswered. And so it remains, even today. Blessed [soon to be Saint] John Paul II noted that “it is an inscrutable mystery between the saintliness of God and the conscience of man.”  Jesus responded by saying “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough…” [Lk 13:24]. His response contains three essential messages for all to hear and heed.

Strive to enter

Locked Out

Locked Out

First, if you wish to be saved, if you desire to attain eternal life with God, you must strive for salvation. How often have we heard Jesus say to someone, “your faith has saved you.” We believe that our faith will save us and that is essentially true. But faith alone is not enough. Faith without action, faith without struggle, faith without strife will never gain for us salvation.

Striving is neither wishful thinking nor some vague hope. Neither is it something we do if and when we have the time. Striving to enter heaven should be what we “seek first” [Matthew 6:33] above all else.

To strive means to devote serious effort or energy to a thing. It means to struggle, which may include pain, agony and even death. Entry into God’s kingdom cannot be bought and paid for like a ticket to a movie, concert, or sporting event nor can it be gained while sitting in a recliner, drinking an adult beverage, and watching television. It is not easy to see God, He never intended for it to be so. It calls for us to strive, to struggle, to constantly and diligently fight against the temptations of sin and anything that keeps us from doing the will of God.

The narrow gate

The second message contained within his response is that we must “enter through the narrow gate” but it is not exactly clear what he means. What is this narrow gate? In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” [Jn 10:9].

Jesus, by his death on the cross, opened the way, the narrow gate for us to enter into God’s kingdom. If we wish to be saved and enter the kingdom of God then we must follow Jesus. To “enter through the narrow gate” we must welcome Jesus into our lives, empty ourselves of our pride and selfishness, and fill ourselves with God.

Strength enough

And finally, Jesus tells us that many will not be “strong enough” to “enter through the narrow gate”.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” [Mt 7:13-14] Many simply will choose the broad road, the easy path rather than struggle through the “constricted…road that leads to life.”

Choosing the path to travel requires making difficult choices. On one path you will find Jesus waiting and eager to be your friend, your companion. This path is narrow and rough, often dark and forbidding, steep and difficult to climb, but he will walk beside you and guide you every step of the way until you arrive at your destination. The other path, the easy road, is broad and paved, full of enticing temptations, but it ultimately “leads to destruction”.

Today, many, especially the young, believe in a hell where nobody goes. Others think that hell is filled by those who are truly evil. And then there are those, often the old, who wonder whether hell might be populated by the likes of themselves. They, like St. Paul, consider the question of their salvation “in fear and trembling.” And they may have good reason. In the Gospel, the “master of the house” refuses to open the door to those standing outside, knocking and asking to enter, even though they had once been in his friends.

Those whose faith is sterile and lifeless hurt only themselves. Those who are hypocrites fix their fate when they reject the truth. Those who hate Jesus slam the door on their salvation. And those who refuse to believe or to come into the open arms of Jesus are left to their own devices.

Get Serious

In all the debates over who and how many will be saved, in our own wonderings about our own eternal lot, it is instructive to remember a truth that is disconcerting yet calming. We all most likely deserve a fate far less glorious than heaven. After all, would not all of us be lost without him? But through him, the narrow gate, all may enter paradise, one by one in salvation’s long procession.

Life in Jesus means a life of struggle, a life striving through the narrow gate. I’ll leave you with this final thought, written by Father Ron Rolheiser. “God doesn’t want part of your life; God wants it all. Distrust all talk about the consolation of religion. Faith puts a rope around you and takes you to where you’d rather not go. Accept that virtue will give you a constant reminder of what you’ve missed out on. Take this Daniel Berrigan counsel to the bank: ‘Before you get serious about Jesus, consider carefully how good you’re going to look on wood!’”

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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