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The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 21, 2016

Click here to listen to this homily (mp4 file)

     Have you noticed?  We haven’t exactly been getting light fare from Luke’s Gospel these summer Sundays.  And that’s a little surprising because Luke has long been known as the ‘scribe of the gentle Christ.’  More than the other gospel writers, Luke shows us the warm, human, compassionate side of Jesus. Luke is the only one of the four to tell us about:

  •  the Jesus of the Bethlehem stable;
  • the Jesus who was brokenhearted when he saw a poor widow on the way to bury her only son;
  • the Jesus who got his feet washed and anointed by a notoriously sinful woman;
  • the Jesus who asked his Father to forgive his executioners and comforted the repentant thief on the cross.

And if it weren’t for Luke, we would never have gotten the parables of the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son.

      Luke is definitely “the scribe of the gentle Christ,” but the gentle Jesus of Luke’s gospel does have a backbone.  Recall the gospel readings of the most recent Sundays. Three Sundays ago we heard him call the smug rich man who kept building bigger barns for storing his wealth a “fool.”  Two Sundays ago he told us to sell our possessions and give to the poor; and last Sunday he told us that he came not to bring peace, but division. And then today we get stern words from Jesus about striving to enter by the narrow gate.

     Can this be the same Jesus?  Yes, it can.  It is!  The Jesus of Luke’s gospel is not one-dimensional, nor can his teaching be reduced to a few cozy or comforting stories.  In fact, if you sit down and read through Luke’s gospel (and I highly recommend that you do: it’s a great read!), you’ll see that a good part of it is the story of a very demanding journey which Jesus makes to Jerusalem. It is an uphill journey geographically - for Jerusalem sits high on a hilltop, and it’s also an uphill journey psychologically - for Jerusalem is the hilltop where Jesus died.  Today’s gospel, along with those of the last few Sundays, comes from what I think of as the ‘uphill’ part of Luke’s Gospel: the journey to Jerusalem which begins in the ninth chapter.

     “Strive to enter by the narrow gate,” Jesus tells us today.  The passport for entry will not be any names we can drop or the company we have kept (“We ate and drank with you!  You taught in our streets!”)  No, our passport will come down to one thing: did we make the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem?

  • Did we walk alongside the one who had no place to lay his head;
  • who, once he put his hand to the plough, never looked back;
  • who, when he prayed to his Father, asked only for this day’s bread, not tomorrow’s;
    who taught that forgiveness was to be offered, not seven times, but seventy-times-seven times;
  • who shocked people when he told them that a camel can more easily pass through the eye of a needle than a rich person enter the kingdom of God;
  • who entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and left it with a cross on his back?

Those, my friends, tell the story of the journey to Jerusalem, and the question is: are we making this journey with Jesus?  If we are, we will understand why the gate is narrow.  The gate is really only wide enough for Jesus. Or let me put it another way: the gate is only wide enough for those who accept the call to become Jesus.  For this Christian life we are trying so hard to live is all about becoming Jesus, “putting on” Jesus, to use St. Paul’s words.  Only when we put on Jesus can we begin to fit through the narrow gate.  It’s as simple as that, and as difficult.

     But what of those who don’t know Jesus?  What of those we heard about in today’s first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, the people of “all nations and tongues from the faraway coastlands?”  What of the people the gospel talks about from “the east and the west, the north and the south,” who are not among the chosen people but who, Jesus says, will nonetheless sit down to eat one day in the kingdom of God?  How do they get through if the gate is narrow?  Is there a contradiction here?       It might seem so.  But we would do well to remember that, though the gate is narrow, the embrace of God is wide – wide beyond our imagining. Isn’t this, after all, part of what we are celebrating during this Jubilee Year of Mercy?  God embraces all peoples, calls all peoples to the kingdom, and even finds a way for them to meet Jesus because everyone who sincerely seeks the truth and lives a life where love and service of others come first meets Jesus – maybe not by name, but certainly in fact.

     Don’t confuse the narrow gate, then, with religious institutions or sectarian walls.  God can break through those quite easily and regularly does.  Think of the narrow gate as that point where a person makes a profound personal choice for truth, for God; a choice for the other, instead of for the self.  Think of the narrow gate as the choice a person makes to love unselfishly and without conditions.  Anyone who loves like that meets Jesus, who is the “narrow gate” into the wideness of God’s mercy.  “Strive, then, to enter by the narrow gate.”      

Father Michael G. Ryan

  

 

 

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