HOMILY FOR TWENTY FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME,
AGORSOR AARON AGBESHIE
ISAIAH 66:18-21/ PSALM 117/ HEBREWS 12:5-7; 11-13/ LUKE 13:22-30
THEME: GOD’S SALVATION IS UNIVERSAL
The material presented to us by the Liturgy of the past few Sundays and for the next ten weeks is taken from the central section of St. Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is portrayed as being on a journey to Jerusalem(Luke 9:51-19:28). It reminds us of the demands of the Kingdom of God. Before one can inherit the Kingdom of God, one must be disciplined. Narrow is the gate that leads to the seat of perfection.
Jesus was a great traveler; a young and energetic man who was devoted to his duties; his duty to make sure that the message of salvation reaches the ends of the world. Youthfulness, therefore, is a special moment. He is still travelling today and his means of transport is the Gospel. The Gospel says Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem … his own narrow door, the place of his suffering. Jesus does not just teach the truth; he lives it. In fact, Jesus is the truth. This he does through us who are his children. Today Jesus comes to our town. You have just heard his word proclaimed in the readings from the Prophet Isaiah, from the Hebrews and from the Gospel of Luke.
Jesus gives his disciples practical directives in the Gospel reading. The Gospel Reading reminds us not to be preoccupied ourselves with who is to be saved when and how many. This calls for discipline, a practical step that the second reading gives us. It is true that discipline at first sight is painful but after that it yields a harvest of righteousness. You might have eaten and drank with him (The Eucharist) but he will tell you that he does not know you. It will indeed be a sad thing for Jesus to tell us that he does not know us. Let us be on guard because those whom we do not expect will find their way into the Kingdom. If you study Jesus’ answer you will find that he does not really answer the question- he does not have this kind of information to communicate from his Father (Acts 1:6). Rather, he gives them a practical directive to bend all their efforts to reach eternal life: “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13: 24). For Jesus, numerical questions are left up to God. The difficulty of this enterprise is expressed by the image of the “narrow door”. But his point is very clear: we will not be saved because we belong to a particular group; salvation depends on the inner leanings of the heart and personal commitment to God. The second half of verse 24 introduces a slightly different idea; many, Jesus tells us, will try to enter into the kingdom of heaven but will not succeed. This is a short verse but pregnant with meaning for all of us. Not everyone is going to make it- in fact, many will not. Later Luke clarifies what he means by this, namely that many men just do not avail themselves of the opportunity of salvation while it is offered to them, and then they begin to have second thoughts about the matter but it is too late and the opportunity does not return. When the master enters the door, it is closed.
What is standing outside the door means? In Matthew 25:10-12, they are unworthy Christians; here in Luke they are the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus who, even though they saw his works and heard his words, refused to believe in him. When the moment of truth comes, it will not matter whether we ate and drank with him because it is not external companionship with Jesus at meals that determines their fate, but that inner belief in him that leads to a conversion of the heart and an honest following of his example. The judgment of Jesus on such people is truly terrifying and should give us pause for thought: “I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity” (Luke 13:27).
The “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a Jewish expression for the sorrow and fury they feel when they see the saints of OT enjoying the eternal banquet with the Lord, while they are excluded forever. It will have been so easy to follow the Lord when they had the chance. Like the Jews falsely thought, many of us are thinking today that just because we are Christians, just because we have been born and baptized into the Christian Community, just because we belong to a group and pay Church dues that was all that was necessary, forgetting that they must also put their own personal effort into it; an effort to enter into a personal relationship with God.
The last will be first and the first will be last. The last verse (30) Luke gives a severe warning to Jews and also to us Christians: The last will be the first and the first will be the last. What does this mean? The Jews considered the pagans to be ‘last’ in reference to themselves who were the ‘First’ because they were the people chosen by God; Luke warns them that the pagans who believe and accept the Gospel will be preferred by God to the Jews who do not believe. Thus just because God has favored us with Baptism, with his grace, with all the Sacraments, with the assistance of the Church and so on, does not give us any reason to be presumptuous and complacent. We must still as St. Paul warns us, work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Cf Philippians 2:12). We have to work at it and strive to enter by the narrow door.
Finally, as an exhortation, we must always bear in mind that the grace of God is sufficient for us. We should be concerned, but we should not be anxious. God does not allow anyone to be tried beyond his ability to resist: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The grace of God is sufficient for us, but we must do our part. Is it possible to give some kind of an answer to the question Luke puts to us today? “Lord will those who are saved be few? Well, whether few or many only God knows ( and we should hope that there will be many, since it is difficult to think that Satan will be victorious over grace of Christ, but one thing is clear and certain that if we believe and live in the imitation of Jesus Christ, God’s grace will be victorious in us.
The First Reading brings out clearly the fact that God’s salvation is universal. It transcends all races, language, tribe, I mean all bearers in human existence. The imagery Isaiah uses shows that when we give our lives to God, no matter how we have wronged him, He takes the initiative to restore us to our lost dignity. He will carry us in horses, chariots, litters to mention but few. Indeed he will treat us like royals because that is what we really are (Cf Isaiah 66:20).