THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – August 25, 2013

 

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah 66:18-21

The Letter to the Hebrews 12:5-7.11-13

The holy Gospel according to Luke 13:22-30

 

Instinctively we soften the harsh words Jesus utters.  Either that or we shield ourselves with sighs of relief concluding that what he is saying is not meant for us.  Wouldn’t we wither if the Master of the House in today’s parable hurled the dismissive statement in today’s parable at us?  I do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers.  That judgment is especially severe when we hear the response of those being cast out.  They declare themselves to have eaten and drunk in the Master’s company and listened to his word.  That sounds like an outline for the Eucharistic Liturgy.  A people come together as the Assembly to listen to the Word and be formed by it and to eat and drink at the Table to be transformed by the Bread and the Wine.  What was missing?  What didn’t happen?  I do not know where you are from!

Could it be that the Lord is talking about formation and transformation that didn’t happen.  In other words, Jesus is saying that mere attendance at the meal is not enough.  To have eaten and drunk with the Master, to have listened to the instruction implies the possibility of a degree of intimacy.  That is what table fellowship is all about.  But intimacy with the Lord demands an openness that allows the Lord to enter, take possession of the heart and dwell there.  It is not enough to toast or even to take the morsel from a shared plate.  Even to embrace and kiss falls short unless the possible communion expresses itself through imitation of the works emanating from the one with whom we have reclined at table.  There will be a sending forth to be the Lord’s other self in the market place.  By their fruits you shall know them.  That is what seems to be missing in the response of those guests in the parable.  That may be why to those who knock at the door in the exterior darkness, the Master of the House declares: I do not know where you are from.

The question that elicits Jesus’ telling the parable is one that always strikes me as odd, even when I hear versions of it today.  Lord, will only a few people be saved?  Those who ask that question seem to assume their own being included in the number and to think of salvation as a static thing, something of a moment that is an end in itself.  Have you been saved, Brother?  The temptation is to shout, Yes.  I’ve been baptized.  But to do that without further explanation gives evidence of the error to which Jesus alludes when he says, Depart from me all you evil doers.  Isn’t he saying, where is the evidence of your conversion, of my primacy of place in your life?  Salvation is not a static moment.  The Faith Walk is an ongoing process of transformation and growth, of being configured more and more to the One in whom we are supposed to live and move and have our being.

What is the satisfaction that comes from musing on the possibility of only a few being saved?  Even 144,000 aren’t that many.  I wince when I hear people denounced and numbered among those who will not go to heaven.  You know the various categories into which people can be sorted.  People can be judged outside the pale of salvation because of their race, their color, their creed, their sex, their sexual orientation, and any other classification that does not conform to the judgers’.  For what purpose?  Does their smugness arise from their assumption that they belong to the elite group?  Do some think that with salvation comes the privilege of being able to look down long noses at those outside the pale?  How do such judgers deal with the universality of God’s love, with God’s desire that all people be saved?

Recently, Pope Francis rankled some when he voiced the opinion that even atheists could find their way to heaven if during their lives they tried to do good.  Imagine that!

What are the evil deeds of those in the parable that results in their being left in the exterior darkness?  Of course there is the reality of sin.  Most of us can name the seven deadly ones.  But is it possible that those who feel powerless in their sinfulness are the objects of the Lord’s special love?  That does put before us a major facet of what salvation means, after all.  Remember that Jesus was rejected by some for the company he kept, for welcoming sinners and sharing table fellowship with them.

Isn’t it curious that the sins judged to be the worst are those the judger has no temptation to commit?  Gluttony is heinous in the minds of those who have moderate appetites.  Intemperance is a horror to those who have no strong attraction to alcohol.  Those who cry out, guilty of any or all of the seven deadly sins, can be forgiven.  Some people forget that there is nothing God loves to do more than to forgive.  That is the heart of the Good News, the heart of the Gospel.  Could begrudging forgiveness be the telltale sign of the unforgiven?  Are they the ones who stand in the exterior darkness and knock?

What is the Lord looking for that enables him to recognize those who knock?  Most likely it is going out from their encounters with Jesus and then doing what he does.  If they are disciples there must be evidence of that fact in their good works.  It must be that they have become about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, sheltering the homeless, and burying the dead.  Those who have eaten and drunk with the Lord now strive to replace the deadly sins with the corporal works of mercy.  It is no longer about being self-centered.  It is about loving others as God loves them.

It will be a salutary moment if, as the Gospel washes over you this Sunday that you wonder if the Lord will recognize your knock at the door.  You may tremble as you pray over the issue.  Remember, the Lord isn’t finished with you yet.  That will be a moment of grace if you feel compelled to open yourself to the Lord and pray to be able to enter by the narrow gate.  And that will happen if you allow the Lord’s Spirit to strengthen you, if you let the Lord show you the way.

How else could Paul have come to be able to say that he could do all things in the Lord who strengthened him?  After all, at one point in his life he had persecuted the church.

The Good News proclaimed this Sunday as we assemble is that you are loved.  Go now, and live that love.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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