Sunday, 22 August 2010
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
Lk 13:22-30; Heb 12:18-24
There are some questions that I get asked many times as a priest. One question that comes up again and again, and that I was asked again this week, is, "How many people go to Hell?” or, the reverse, “How many go to Heaven?" This is a good question, an old question, a question that has concerned people down the centuries. It is also a question that Jesus was asked, as we heard in today’s Gospel: "Sir, will there be only a few saved?"(Lk 13:23). But it’s interesting how few people today seem to recall the Lord’s answer.
Jesus’s answer was certainly not comforting to the person who asked the question, because Jesus started by questioning the salvation of the questioner:
"Try YOUR best to enter by the NARROW door, because I tell you, many will TRY to enter and will not succeed"(13:24).
He went on to say that many would knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us” (13:25) but be turned away.
More worryingly still, Jesus said that many who thought they were saved would not be: they will say to the Lord that they knew the Lord (or so they thought), but the Lord will say to them, “I do not know where you come from” and cast them out into the “weeping and grinding of teeth”(Lk 13:28).
And it will be others who will be saved, others from the “east and west”(13:19) who will take the places that the comfortable and complacent thought they had waiting for them.
The Lord’s answer is clearly not one to encourage complacency in His hearers, or in us.
And yet, we ourselves live in an age where popular opinion makes us complacent in such matters. Hell is something that is rarely talked about, even as a possibility -it is often dismissed as being only for people who are so wicked that they only exist as theoretical examples.
But Jesus's teaching does not encourage such presumption. He speaks in this text of a “narrow” door, not a wide one. And as He says elsewhere, “The road is wide that leads to perdition and MANY walk in it"(Mt 7:13).
So, what must WE do?
To repeat the words Jesus said to His questioner: “Try YOUR best to enter by the NARROW door”. We ourselves also need to enter by this narrow door, and we know that it is narrow because it can be HARD WORK to be good, to walk the path of salvation. Our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews reminded us of the suffering and training that is involved in being a Christian. Just as the athlete suffers and endures so that he may enters the arena and win the game, we too must not shrink from the hard work that is involved in living the moral Godly life that Christ calls us to. Anything good is worth striving for, and eternal salvation is no exception.
But, to conclude, let us remember that though the Lord speaks of hell and tells us that we must “strive”(Lk 13:24) to follow Him, we are striving not against Him but with Him.
Let us remember the text we heard in our second reading from Hebrews, "Have you forgotten that encouraging text in which you are addressed as sons?"(12:5)
If we wish to ponder the question, "How many will be saved?" and more directly, "Will I be saved?", we must not forget that God calls each and every one of us to become His adopted child. For EACH of us He has a special plan, He guides our lives and even our sufferings, to lead us, daily, towards Him and the salvation He desires for us. He wants us to be saved, He calls us to Himself, He has come to us because He is the way, He Himself is the “narrow door” that leads to life.
If we would enter that door, it is not complicated: We must embrace His will, daily repent of our sins, continually call on His mercy.
And, if we are humbly among the little ones acknowledging our sins and weakness and calling on His mercy, rather than presuming on our strength, then we will be among the “men from east and west, north and south, [who] will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God”(Lk 13:29).