21st Sunday of the Year C
SALVATION IS FOR ALL NON-EVILDOERS
Is 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7,11-13; Luke 13:22-30
The gospel of today introduces us to the fundamental question dealing with the salvation of the sinner. This question has always been asked throughout biblical history: who will be saved? Today, in the gospel of Luke, the question was framed differently: Will only a few be saved? This was asked in the context of the past Jewish soteriological thinking. As we know, the Jews of the Old Testament divided the universe into two camps: a) the Jews (those elected by God to be within the map of the holy covenant), and b) the Gentiles (those who are outsiders to the commonwealth of Israel). With this type of mentality, salvation was seen as an “exclusively reserved property” for the Jews .
- WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO BE SAVED, ACCORDING TO SOME MODERN CHRISTIAN CHURCH GROUPS?
The Jewish simplified mentality about who is to be saved prevails in Christianity today, in several forms:
- “Jehovah Witnesses” erroneously take the symbolic number 144000 in Revelation 7:4 as the number of those who are already saved. Outside this, no other person shall be saved.
- Some fundamentalist Christians naively think that only those they call “born again Christians” would be saved.
- Still, some Christians believe that their church denomination guarantees more salvation than other Churches. In fact, they identify their church group as the “narrow gate.”
- At the interfaith level, many Christians believe that only Christians would be saved (the same mistake that the Jews held about themselves). According to this mind set, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists. Etc., will not be saved because they are not Christians.
- Many people also believe that every so-called pagan is going to hell a priori, just like the Jews believed that we Gentiles were forever doomed and irredeemable.
- In this respect, our ancestors are all in hell simply because they died before the advent of Christianity in Africa.
- SALVATION IS FOR ALL
The first reading and the and Responsorial Psalm of today highlight the fact that God’s salvation is to be extended to all peoples (Read these texts again). Against the Jewish theology of salvation, Jesus, in the gospel, opens up access to the narrow gate to non-Jews. He says: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” This is the four corners of the earth. Jesus teaches further in the gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:10-20).
Even repentant sinners and apparent outsiders have a place in God’s kingdom. Heaven belongs to those who are actively working for it.
- Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).
- About Zacchaeus, the tax collector, in Luke 19:9-10, Jesus says: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”
- The “Good Samaritan” is equally proposed as a model of the kingdom, not the priest nor the Levite (Lk 10:25-37). As an outsider, the Samaritan merits heaven because he is seen actively working for it.
- GOING THROUGH THE NARROW GATE
Although salvation is open to all, everyone must go through the Narrow GATE. Jesus says: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it”. Matthew 7:13-14 has a similar quote that says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” There is no other way because Jesus alone is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
However, not every single individual shall make it to heaven. Jesus says that many will expect entry to Heaven. But they will be denied! In fact, the designations of “broad and narrow” ways seem to indicate that the majority of people will NOT be granted entry into Heaven! Jesus says that there will be some people who believe they are going to Heaven who will discover when they reach the door of Heaven that they are not allowed in. These people will claim to be friends of the Lord. They will point to their church membership, their baptism, their service or their experiences, but the Lord will say that He never knew them.
On the other hand, some church denominations oversimplify salvation. They make salvation so cheap that it becomes an effortless freeway or expressway ride, devoid of the way of the cross. It is not uncommon today to hear someone say, “I am saved,” “When I was not yet saved,” or for one to ask you: “Are you saved?” In such congregations, at the end of a baptismal liturgy the pastor declares to the baptized: “You are now saved!” It is not surprising to see someone leave one’s church for the other and claims that he/she is now “saved.” What a mockery of salvation? They make salvation to become something that can be known with certainty in advance. They put the burden entirely on God, whose duty it is now to save unconditionally. This is “Christianity made simple.” Of course, it is what lazy Christians want. (One cannot fail to note the frequent use of cell phone text messages proposing easy solutions to complex problems, e.g. requesting that one should just send a message further to 10 people or say ‘Amen’ and all one’s problems would be solved!)
- WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GO THROUGH THE NARROE GATE?
For some Catholics, the possession of a baptismal certificate and regular Mass attendance suffices for a guarantee heaven. This is a big mistake. Mere familiarity with the divine is not enough for salvation. It is not sufficient to say: “We ate and drank in your company” (Lk 13:26). In a parallel Matthew 7, Jesus told his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:21-23). In this regard, Jesus says in today’s gospel: After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out (Lk 13:25-28).
What is interesting to note in this parable is that those who tried to enter Heaven, they said, “We ate and drank with You.” They ate and drank with the Lord Jesus, these words implying they were receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. If such is the case, why are they lost? Why does Jesus say that He does not know them, that they are evildoers? Here is the possible answer to this question.
It may refer to those who eat the bread or drink the cup in an unworthy manner. On this subject Saint Paul said, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason, many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor. 11:27- 30)
In other words, those who receive Holy Communion in a state of sin, they will receive judgment against themselves. The Lord Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Confession for a reason. It is for the soul to be forgiven of its sins, to be made righteous in the eyes of God. If believers want to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Communion, prior to doing so, they must be free of mortal sins. Indeed, many are lost because they do not choose the narrow door. They prefer a religion that is not too demanding, one that does not make it mandatory to attend Mass every Sunday. They reject the ongoing real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist once the bread and wine have been consecrated. They want their way, not God’s way.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the narrow door is symbolic of the hardships of life for those who follow Jesus. It is symbolic of accepting poverty, being of a charitable heart, forgiving others, being patient, etc… It is symbolic 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 Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus said, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Many will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mk. 8:38)
- THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE CHURCH
The prophecy of Jesus in today’s gospel is fully realized in the Church, which is the beginning of the Kingdom of God right here on earth. The Church is made up literally of people from east and west, north and south, people of all races, colours, languages and cultures. This is why the Church is CATHOLIC, meaning UNIVERSAL. What all these people have in common is their faith in Jesus Christ. It is by their faith that Christians most resemble Abraham, “man of faith par excellence”. It is this faith that makes Christians real descendants of Abraham. Descendants of Abraham are no longer reckoned merely on biological grounds or observance of the Jewish Law. St. Paul highlights this fact in the following words: “That is why the promise is to faith, so that it comes as a free gift and is secure for all the descendants, not only those who rely on the Law but all those others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the ancestor of us all” (Rom 4:16).
While Christians constitute the kingdom of God here on earth, it is worthy to note that we can remain in that kingdom and attain its fulfilment in heaven only if we continue in our faith in Jesus Christ. St. James tells us that this FAITH is manifested in good deeds. “…faith: if good deeds do not go with it, it is quite dead” (James 2:17). Even Abraham’s faith was manifested in his deed. As St. James further says: “Was not Abraham our father justified by his deed, because he offered his son, Isaac, on the altar?” (James 2:21). Justification, salvation is available to all (universally) who put their faith in Christ!
- SALVATION COMES AT THE END
Some Christians believe that once they have received God’s grace, they are good for heaven, regardless of what they do, good or bad. That is a big error. There is a book, titled “Pilgrim’s Progress”. It is the great allegory written by John Bunyan. The book tells the story of a guy named CHRISTIAN who is heading to the Celestial City (Heaven). Christian arrives at the cross and gets rid of his sin burden early in the book. But the story makes it clear that the point of surrender to Christ is the beginning of the journey of faith, not the end of it. Christian encountered various challenges: pride, sloth, impatience, discouragement and many other obstacles along the way to the city. He is, then, made to understand that it is only by persevering in faithfulness that he could make it to the city. We learn that it is in the battle to be faithful that we grow faithful.
Considering that salvation comes at the end, not even St. Paul could declare himself saved. He had to wait till the end. The most important thing for him was fighting the good fight and running the race. Hence, he was quoted in 2Timothy as saying: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure are at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2Tim 4,6-8).
Here, it is all about FINISHING THE RACE AND KEEPING THE FAITH. And even at this, the crown of righteousness can only be given by the righteous judge on that day. Paul further underlines this fact in these words: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; so that each one may receive what is due for that he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2Cor 5,10). This shows that reward comes only at the end of the race.