21st Sunday in O.T. (C); August 21, 2016
Is 66:18-21 Ps 117 Heb 12:5-7,11-13 Lk 13:22-30
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison & SJB
A few years ago an inmate at Folsom Prison approached me and said, “Deacon, I came across a number in Scripture that says only 150,000 people are going to be saved. If that’s so, I don’t stand a chance, do I?” His concern is mirrored in today’s Gospel, in which a man asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” (Lk 13:23).
Behind the inmate’s question may have been the fear that since human beings tend to exclude others, that God does the same. Since only “150,000 people are going to be saved,” he was afraid that being an inmate immediately disqualified him—sort of like a heavenly 3 Strikes.
To begin with, God’s invitation to eternal life is open to everyone; Jesus is the savior of the whole world, not just a select group. Jesus is the sole mediator between heaven and earth and, as Pope Francis reminds us, “Bridges are better than walls,” and Jesus is the ultimate bridge builder.
Yet, we the People of God, disciples of Jesus, don’t seem to be immuned from marginalizing others. After the massacre of gays in Orlando, Fl, I was reading the Prayers of the Faithful on the following Sunday. As I perused the petitions, I noticed that there was no mention of that tragedy; we were not asked to prayer for our gay brothers and sisters who were slaughtered. I hesitated. Should I add that intention? I did not and kept silent.
A few days later, I read one of Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff, infamous airplane interviews in which he was asked whether, “the Catholic Church should apologize to the gay community for having marginalized these persons?” (L’Osservatore Romano; 1 July, 2016).
His response was one of bridge-building. He said, “I repeat what the CCC says, namely that they (gays) should not be discriminated against, that they should be shown respect and given pastoral assistance.
“But none of this has to do with the problem: if the problem is that a person is so inclined, and with good will seeks God, who are we to judge him or her? We should be helpful to them, in accordance with the teachings of the Catechism.”
Is the Holy Father changing doctrine? Of course, not. He is a son of the Church and he accepts the Catechism, which teaches that a homosexual orientation is not sinful, while homosexual actions are and that gays should strive to be chaste, just as singles and married couples should be as well.
Pope Francis then concludes with “…I think the Church should apologize—not only to this person who is gay and has been offended, but also to the poor, to women, and to children exploited in the workplace, and for having blessed so many weapons.”
Well, there’s not time like the present: I am truly sorry for the times I have marginalized and excluded others, including those who are gay.
But back now to the 150,000 figure. What do we do with that? What does Jesus mean that the gate to eternal life is narrow? If the narrow gate is not about exclusion, what is it then?
It is about difficulty. Jesus realistically conveys how difficult it is for most of us to follow the way into God’s heart. Jesus himself is our model by his words and actions. He struggled with following His Father’s will when God demanded that he sacrifice himself on the cross as the price of redemption for all of humanity. It was unbearably difficult, but Jesus knew it was worth it to bring God’s love to all forever.
For us, the narrow gate is a daily struggle to conform our whole life in every detail to love, to self-gift, to surrender to God’s love so that His love and grace can flow through us to a wider world. As Jesus revealed, that kind of loving is boundless and liberating and worth whatever the cost.
What is our hope and promise that we will be in the embrace of God forever? It is Jesus. Yes, it is a narrow gate but one that is precisely the size of Jesus himself. Let us put on Jesus and let Him work in and through us by prayerfully listening to the unique way we are to manifest Him to the world. It is our turn to love as Jesus did. It is our turn to be Christ to the world. It is our turn to build bridges, not walls. Amen.