Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

Readings: Is 66:18-21; Ps 117:1, 2; Heb 12:5-7, 11-13; Lk 13:22-30

MAKE STRAIGHT YOUR PATHS!

  • Five wise men got lost in the forest.
    The first one said: I will go the left – my intuition tells me that.
    The second one said: I will go the right – because “the right” comes from the word “rightness”.
    The third one said: I will go back – we came from there, it means I will go out from the forest.
    The fourth one said: I will go straight – we should move forward, the forest will end and something new will open.
    The fifth said: You are all wrong. There is a better solution. Wait for me. He found the tallest tree and climbed into it. While he was climbing everyone else scattered towards their own sides. From above he saw where they should go to leave the forest faster. Now he could even see in what order the other wise men would reach the end of the forest. He climbed higher and saw the shortest way. He understood the problem and found the best solution! He knew that he did everything right. And the others were wrong. They were stubborn and they didn’t listen to him. He was the real Wise Man!
    But he was wrong.
    Everyone was right. The one who went to the left, found himself in the thicket. He had to starve and fight with wild animals. But he learned how to survive in the forest; he became a part of the forest and could teach others the same.
    The one, who went to the right, met thieves. They took everything from him and made him steal with them. But after some time, he had woken up something in those thieves that they have forgotten – humanity and compassion. The remorse was so strong in some of them, that after his death they also became the wise men.
    The one, who went back, made a pathway through the forest, which soon became a road for those who wanted to walk in the forest without being afraid of getting lost.
    The one, who went straight, became a pioneer. He visited the places where no one else was and opened wonderful new possibilities for people, amazing healing plants and magnificent animals.
    The one, who climbed into the tree, became a specialist of finding short ways. People turned to him when they wanted to find the fastest way to deal with their problems, even if it didn’t lead to any development.
    This is how the five wise men reached their destiny.
  • One day a son came to his father for an advice:
    – Dad, I can’t do this anymore, – he said, – those lessons only exhaust me, and the result doesn’t change. It must be not destined for me to play football and my dream will never come true.
    The father looked at his son with loving eyes and said:
    – You know son, every person in life has a dream, a goal of his life. They are the ones that make us do what we are doing, because it’s what we should do. We have to fight for what we believe in, what we feel. In other case, you will simply brake. Once – and for all.
    The easiest way is to quit everything and not go until the end, because the path is difficult and we are not used to inconveniences. We want everything to be easy and at once. But the wishes are fleeting! This is how our dream dies, and the goal becomes unreachable.
    Gradually, life becomes a routine without depth and meaning. Then one day, we try to forget and start everything from the beginning, we wait for a new day to make our life different. But new obstacles come our way, and we stop again. We become full of despair and anger for our own helplessness.
    But you only need to remember one thing: never give up, fight, battle. It doesn’t matter that you have lost one battle and even dozens of battles. Life goes on! Your biggest enemies are hiding in you – laziness, fear, doubt, indecision. Be a warrior of your dream, a knight of your goal and a soldier of your wishes!
  • One man decided to reach for his dream. But he didn’t have enough strength to do it. So he turned to his mother:
    – Mother, help me!
    – Darling, I would be glad to help you, but I don’t have it. And everything I have, I already gave to you…
    He asked a wise man:
    – Master, tell me, where can I get strength?
    – It is said that, it is on the Everest. But I couldn’t find anything there, except the snowy winds. And when I came back, the time was irretrievably lost…
    He asked the hermit:
    – Holy Father, where to find the strength for realization of my dream?
    – In your prayers, my son. And if your dream is false, you will understand it and find peace in your prayers…
    The person asked everyone, but the only result of his searches was confusion.
    – Why are you so confused? – asked an old man passing by.
    – I have a dream, good man. But I don’t know where to find strength for its realization. I asked everyone, but there was no one who could help me.
    – No one? – a light flashed in the old man’s eyes, – And did you ask yourself?

The First Reading: The third section of the Book of Isaiah has a universal outlook that is both inspiring and moving. During their exile in Babylon, the people of Israel continued to reflect on their understanding of God and their new experience in an alien land. Their vision of God had evolved — no longer was God merely Israel’s deity, but the God of all humanity.

God speaks of a time when peoples from every nation will be gathered together and instructed in the ways of the Lord. God intended to send survivors of the exile to many nations to proclaim the word, envisioning a time when all will stream towards the Holy Mountain to enter into God’s presence. Some will even be accepted as priests and Levites.

The New Testament did not invent a universal outlook — it was a further development of the vision of Isaiah. The simple fact is that God is far more generous, expansive and inclusive than we can imagine (or for some people, fear!). Right from the beginning of time, God’s plan has embraced all of humanity. We might ask why Christianity has always been plagued by theological, ethnic and class distinctions that have often resulted in terrible injustice and bloodshed. Could it be that we often substitute our own prejudices, hatred and fears for the will and compassion of God? We rebuild the barriers and distinctions that humans erect against one another almost faster than God dismantles them. As we face a world that is increasingly polarized and fragmented, our response could be to continue the work of Isaiah and the New Testament. The emphasis would be on welcoming and including, as well as persuading by kindness and mercy. Tribal theologies are deadly and have no place in the modern world.

Life can bring us some very hard knocks. We can react with resentment, self-pity, victimization or rebellion, and this is a road well-travelled. On the other hand, we can treat everything that comes our way as an opportunity for growth.

The Second Reading: Hebrews speaks of discipline — this is not some sort of punishment but the sort of training that an athlete, musician or scholar must undergo in order to be successful. For the follower of Jesus, this means meeting every challenging situation or person with dignity, grace and courage, and responding with patience and compassion. When we do so, we are the victor. We are never victims without our consent.

Gospel: We are all familiar with a thing called a door. A door says a lot to us. A door can free us or imprison us. A door can make us feel comfortable or make us feel insecure. A door can make us feel comfortable or uncover us. Along our journey of faith we have already encountered a lot of doors, and we will always encounter doors.

In our today’s Gospel someone asked Jesus: “Lord, are they few in number who are to be saved?” He replied: “strive to enter by the narrow door; for many; I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able,” ( v24).

Jesus went on to say by using the parable that when the owner of the house has got up and shut the door and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying: “Lord open to us,” then in reply he will say to you, ” I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say: We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets.” But the Lord will say: ” I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers,” ( vv25-27)

What is the highest point of interest in this parable (vv25-27) is that those who tried to enter heaven, they said: “We ate and drank with you.” They ate and drank with the Lord Jesus. From these words we can understand one implication, that they were receiving the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. If such is the case why then are they lost? Why does Jesus say that he does not know where they come from? We can have 2 possible answers.

In the first place it may refer to those who eat the bread or drink the cup in an unworthy manner. St. Paul said that whoever ate the bread and drank the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner would be answerable for the Body and Blood of the Lord. In other words those who receive Holy Communion in a state of sin, they will receive judgment against themselves. It is under this background that the Lord Jesus instituted the sacrament the sacrament of confession. The sacrament is purposely for the soul to be forgiven of its sins, to be made righteous in the eyes of God.

The second possible reason as to why many are lost is because they do not choose the narrow door. This means they prefer a religion that is not too demanding, one that does not make it mandatory to attend mass every day. They want their way, not God’s way. For instance by this they support an immoral way of life, they support a culture of death like abortion, death penalty, divorce, same sex marriage, corruption etc.

What can we say about the narrow door? This is the symbol of the hardship of life for those who follow Jesus. It is the symbol of accepting poverty, being of charitable heart, forgiving others, being patient and many others. It symbolizes a situation of not being ashamed of Jesus, of going forward and proudly speaking of his salvation. It is symbolic of accepting persecution for the sake of the most name Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus said: “Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” ( Mk 8:38).

How can one be saved? The answer is apparent, that is to be a friend of God. There are only two kinds of people in this world: those who are being used by God for his purposes and those who are using God for their own purposes. Between the two, one is serving God and the other is serving his own desires. Thus for us who are trying to become friends of God, let us try to do what is expected of us by God. We are not to live for ourselves but to live for God and respond to his call and purpose.

In relation to our readings today, who is a good Catholic? The good Catholic is one who recognizes that he is a sinner and that he goes to church to listen and understand the Word. Such people are practicing their faith because if they do not do this, they know they are not following Christ well. To be a good Christian means more than just going to Mass once a week, although, of course, it also includes this. To be a Christian is to grow spiritually while we follow Christ honestly and humbly.

First, the Gospel begins with a question raised by somebody in the crowd at Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” For those people who are serious in their Christian life, this is also a question that they would be asking. It has been clear to these people that, despite the objective redemption brought by Jesus through his passion, death, and resurrection, we nevertheless make this salvation as our own. This is what we call the “appropriation” of this salvation. It means that we must work for this salvation. We must be good so that we would be saved. But we have noticed that Jesus did not make a categorical answer to that question. It appears that it was a wrong question. In the end, salvation is grace. This plan of salvation initially came from the Father and it is the Father alone who exactly knows how many would be saved.

Secondly, for Jesus, the real question should not be “How many would be saved?” but rather, “How can salvation be attained?” With this question, Jesus gave us a clear answer. He said, “Strive to enter through a narrow gate, for many, I tell you will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Thus, salvation does not come cheap. It should be hard-earned. This is a reminder for people who presumed too much. Presumption is a sin against the virtue of hope. There are people who would philosophically say, “Anyway, God is good and he wills everyone to be saved. So why work for salvation when we are already assured of it?” But in the words of Jesus, we learn that the road to salvation is not that easy. Fidelity to God and his teachings is not easy. We cannot afford to remain complacent. We need to work on it and we need to be strong enough to persevere in our drive toward attaining salvation.

Thirdly, our affiliation to a religious organisation, like say the Church, cannot be a guarantee of salvation. In the parable we heard that many would say to the master of the house, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” But the master would reply, “Depart from me all you evildoers.” Let us take note of the keywords: ate, drank, taught. The celebration of the Eucharist can have those elements of “eating”, “drinking” and “teaching”. We listen to the Word of God, and we partake of the body and blood of Christ during the celebration of the Holy Mass. In other words, we may say that we have affinity with Jesus the Master because we come to the celebration of the holy Eucharist. But this would not count if, in life, we are evildoers. So it appears that the real guarantee to salvation is the quality of our moral life. I mean, the way how we live our life.

Finally, we must be reminded that salvation is both a freedom and a gift. On the one hand, we need to work on it. As Jesus would say, we should strive to enter a narrow gate. But on the other hand, we need also to consider that salvation is, in the final analysis, God’s gratuitous gift to us.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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