THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – August 21, 2016

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 66:18-21

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 13:22-30

 

Dear Jesus,

There are times when I tremble at your words.  I do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers.  I hear what you say even as I hear the response of that first audience that declare themselves to have eaten and drunk in your company, and listened to your word.  That sounds like an outline for the 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!

Are you talking about formation and transformation that didn’t happen?  In other words, are you saying that mere attendance at the meal isn’t enough?  To have eaten and drunk with you, to have listened to your instruction implies the possibility of a degree of intimacy – table fellowship being what it is.  I have come to understand that intimacy with you demands an openness that allows you 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 an embrace and kiss fall short unless the possible communion expresses itself through works emanating from the one who has reclined at table with you and his/her going forth to be your other self in the market place.  By their fruits you shall know them.  Is that what is missing.  Is that why you say to those who, in the exterior darkness, knock at the door, I do not know where you are from?

The question that initiates your remarks is one that always strikes me as odd.  Lord, will only a few people be saved?  Do those who ask that question think of salvation as a static thing, something of a moment that is an end in itself?  Have you been saved, Brother?  Sometimes I want to shout in response, yes.  I’ve been baptized.   But were I to answer that way without further explanation, I would give evidence of what I think is the error to which you allude when you say: Depart from me all you evil doers.  Aren’t you saying, “Where is the evidence of your conversion, of my primacy of place in your life?”

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 of people being 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 salvation because of their race, their color, their creed, their gender, their sexual orientation, and any other classification that some find repugnant.  For what purpose?  Is their satisfaction in thinking that they belong to an elite group?  Do some think that with salvation comes the possibility of looking down long noses at those outside the pale and see them as shunned by God?  How do such judgers deal with the universality of God’s love, with God’s desire that all people be saved?

Come to me all you who are thirsty and I will refresh you.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me!  It seems to me that a hallmark of those on the way to salvation is their universality of acceptance.  All are welcome here.  The Table is not a place where the elite gather.  The bread is broken for all who feel called to participate.  The Cup is not reserved for a few.  All are welcome in this place.

What are the evil deeds of those in your parable that results in their being left in the exterior darkness?  Of course there is such a thing as sin.  Most of us can name the seven deadly ones.  Am I wrong in thinking that those who feel powerless in their sinfulness are the objects of your special love?  After all, they did say about you that you welcomed sinners and ate with them.  It is a curiosity that those sins are judged to be the worst by those who feel no temptation to commit them.  Gluttony is heinous in the minds of those who have moderate appetites, intemperance, by those who have no strong attraction to alcohol or drugs.

Those who cry out their guilt 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.  Isn’t that at the heart of your Good News?  I wonder if to begrudge forgiveness may not well be the telltale sign of the unforgiven.  Are they the ones who stand in the exterior darkness and knock?

So, I wonder if what you are looking for, what would enable your recognition of those who knock, isn’t their willingness to go out from their encounter with you and be willing to do what you do.  If they will be your disciples, there must be evidence of that fact in what are their works.  You want them to be about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, sheltering the homeless and burying the dead.  You want them to love those they are tempted to think of as unlovable.  That is the narrow gate through which you challenge your disciples to enter.

That is why you challenge us to remember our ancestors in the faith, the communion of saints, those who walked the walk and talked the talk and imitated you in loving.  And rather than being shamed, we ought to be inspired by those latecomers to the community who live the Good News and become the first to enter the Kingdom.

As I listen to you this Sunday, I hear Pope Francis and his call for reform.  He is challenging us to throw of the splendor and the elitism, and become a poorer church that serves the needs of the poor.  We are not to consider ourselves over others; rather we are to serve in the midst of others.  It should be about mercy.  It should be about love.  Is that how others outside, so to speak, experience the church?

Lord, will you recognize my knock at the door?  I tremble as I ask.  I know that I cannot enter by the narrow gate on my own.  You must strengthen me.  I need you to show me the way.  Will I come to understand and say with St. Paul that I can do all things in you who strengthen me?

Sincerely,

Didymus

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