TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2019
The Jewish people, identified as the children of God since the time of Moses, believed that God would save them. With this designation as his children, it seemed a foregone conclusion to the Jews that God would keep them from any suffering associated with hell. The question of today’s Gospel, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" then is asking Jesus, ‘How many Gentiles (non-Jews) will be saved?’ since these people were not of Jewish blood or culture and therefore not of the chosen.
Jesus, in his response, emphasizes that salvation any person is not determined by ‘whom you know’ but ‘who you are.’ Each person must seek heaven through his or her merits. No person can arrogantly assume automatic an entry. Nor can one buy his or her way into heaven by money, power, or by the self-proclamation of being worthy of God’s grace. Therefore, God would welcome some Gentiles into Heaven before the self-righteous Jews who believed that heaven was owed to them. It is a person’s actions, while here on earth, in choosing good over evil that determines whether an individual will sit at the Lord’s bountiful table in heaven.
The devil provides many opportunities to sin for each of us. He twists our thinking and leads us to believe that by using any necessary manipulation, we will attain the satisfaction of perfection on earth. How much do we advance our fulfillment of happiness with the practices of pride and envy? What depravities in lust and gluttony will we attempt to realize some base desires? How many times have we ignored the opportunities to change our faith practices because of slothfulness? How often does our anger overwhelm our rational thought? Does the desire for possessions and money cause greed to prioritize our lives? The accumulation of this evilness that changes our body and spirit may cause the Father to question whether we can sit at his table.
Whereas once we were pure of body and spirit at our baptism, exposure to the world altered our appearance. Sin changes our spiritual appearance, adding a sooty blackness and unappealing lesions. Sin bloats us with the excess baggage of self-desires and self-righteousness that prevent us from passing through the narrow gate of heaven. However, all hope is not lost, for we can slough off these impurities through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confessing our sins can remove the stains, and the corruption to our spirit, returning us to the brilliance of purity as at our baptism.
At the judgment day, many will be seeking to pass through the narrow gate into heaven. God, the Father, will judge those who have qualified for eternal life in the Kingdom. Only those who have sincerely sought repentance of God for their sins will be able to enter. God’s demand for satisfaction for our sins has nothing to do with vengeance. Rather than eliminating the penalty for our sins in, God upholds his respect of our human dignity. In giving us the freedom of free will to make choices, he treats like “adults’ in that he makes us responsible for our acts and the corresponding consequences. God knows whether one’s acts and words of contrition are expressed with the heartfelt desire to be one with the Lord.
Jesus emphasizes the need for discipline of the mind and heart. A person must center one’s heart on love of God and neighbor. A person must logical recognize that earthly desires are not the summit of one’s life. There will always be those who want the rewards of the Lord’s feast but do not have the discipline in the struggle necessary to surrender their minds and hearts to Jesus. For these people, the acts and words of faith are nothing more than the purchased price of a ticket to gain admission to heaven.
It is an indefensible practice for those who use Holy Water or make the Sign of the Cross but have no faith, thinking that there is some magical property in these acts that will protect them or give them some advantage. This false performance is just as empty when consuming the consecrated bread and wine during Mass and not believing that they have become Body and Blood of Jesus. These individuals are the ones who repeatedly eat and drink at the Lord’s Table but ignore the actual price of admission. Jesus comment to these pretenders is, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, evildoers.”
Those who have seen themselves as the privileged few in this world will be disappointed when attempting to place themselves at the head of the line entering heaven. Money, power, manipulation, none of these things will then have value on judgment day. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.” It is us that need to change our attitudes; our practices to allow us to pass through for God will not be widening the gate to accommodate those who want into heavenly feast on their terms. Those who have learned the lessons of placing love for God and others before acts of self-love will be first because they have found in their heart what Jesus knew in his heart – divine love makes all of us equal.
Deacon Dan Gilbert