Our Prior, Fr. Joel celebrated Holy Mass this morning. The video and text of his homily are below:
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
The question how many will be saved seems to be a perennial question. It was asked by sincere people in Jesus’ day. It is no less a concern among some Christians today. The person in the story asks Jesus if only a few will be saved? The real question of course is am I among the group that will be saved? The next question is how do I make it into that small group? Jesus answers the questions with some pictures or images.
The first picture is that of the narrow door. Entrance into the Kingdom is not easy; first you have to find the door. We find Jesus along the way to Jerusalem. That travel detail might not mean much at first. We see Jesus moving along surrounded usually by a large crowd. They seem to like what he is saying. They find Jesus an attractive person to be with. They enjoy his company. They listen attentively to his words. Some even share a meal with him.
But the story says Jesus is headed for Jerusalem. But what does it mean that the goal of his journey is Jerusalem? What awaits him there? We know it already. What awaits him is his passing, his cross and his death. All Jesus words are really focused on getting us to see that his life is headed in that direction. His word to us has been: take up your cross each day and follow me. …. The people milling around may have lost that perspective as they see large crowds around Jesus, experience him as a wonderful person. There is no indication that the crowds are going to Jerusalem. Do the people know that the way to salvation will cost their lives? It doesn’t mean following Jesus on a dusty road for a while; it means bearing the same cross. Salvation cost Jesus his life. It will cost the same for any who are interested in the kind of salvation that Jesus is talking about. The narrow door into the Kingdom. What is it? Maybe it is the cross. Maybe it is really going up to Jerusalem with Jesus. It is taking the words of Jesus and living them out.
The narrow door, the way to salvation, may just mean doing God’s will even when it goes in an unexpected direction. Salvation means being stripped down, like Jesus, so we can fit through the door. We carry a lot of baggage on our journey of life. Nice things are in those bags, wonderful dreams. And there are many illusions in those bags also: illusions about life, about people, about situations. Carrying them can be a distraction from even finding the narrow door. Yes, we might have illusions about who is to be saved. If we carry them, we might have difficulty entering through the narrow door.
The next picture hits rather hard at our expectations of who is to be saved. In the next picture it is the Lord himself rising up and locking that door to the Kingdom so that no one else can enter. And we are shocked, as well we might be. “I don’t know you and I don’t know where you come from.” But what are we claiming as we loudly knock on the door? We are claiming that we know Jesus, we recognized him when he walked about among us. We know that he taught us. We even ate and drank with him. In other words we claim a solid and firmly established relationship to Jesus. Put it another way: we have been to Church regularly, we have shared in the Eucharist with Jesus; we have followed his teachings and the teachings of the proper authorities. How can the Lord now say to us, “I don’t know you” and lock us out of the Kingdom? What has gone wrong that we are not among the saved?
It is not enough to follow Jesus around, it is not enough to be familiar with what he said; it is not enough to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. It is not enough to make our relationship with Jesus look good.
The real following of Jesus makes demands that go beyond an appearance of what is good and right. Relationship with Jesus demands fidelity in all areas of life. Discipleship means living a life in harmony with the word of the Lord. The word of the Lord must take over our lives and becomes the norm not for the moment or when it is advantageous. Relationship with the Lord means making it all the way to Jerusalem. There is much more to a relationship than being seen in the company of Jesus. There is being faithful to the Lord when no one is around to watch or even care. There is living out our discipleship when we feel abandoned by friends and family. Last week Jesus warned us that a relationship with him would bring about division among our other relationships. That is part of the experience of the narrow door. In the end there will be no crowds with acclamations; only a man hanging on the cross and a few, very few, faithful followers to weep.
The last image Jesus offers us as a response to the question of how many will be saved is the feast or the meal in the Kingdom of God. This scene has to do with expectations. Those who were quite sure they had the dinner invitation right are those who find the host turning them away on the last day. Those who though they had a place with the ancestors now find themselves only looking in through the windows but not sitting at the table. The ones who thought they were among the acceptable because they had done the right things and maintained relations with the right people are now outside. But the reality is the table seems to be rather full. And notice, they are not people who could have known Jesus or heard him in their streets. They are those who lived far away from Jesus’ place. They lived at another time and place. They come from east and west, north and south—the whole family of humanity is now invited and is sitting at the table in the Kingdom. These are the saved. The names of the countries they come from in Isaiah are old names. Today they are the people from Somalia, Libya, Ukraine, Congo, Kirabati, Guatemala, Tibet, Kashmir, Myanmar, Mexico and so on.
Jesus is again breaking the expected, the assumed. What is being shattered is any thought that I have a right to be in the Kingdom. Being related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not a guarantee of a place in the kingdom. Or even more, just being in the company of Jesus doesn’t mean you enjoy the final meal. Jesus is at least letting us know that you and I cannot claim entrance because we are part of the club. He is letting us know that salvation is not just for our group, our church, our people. Salvation is a real possibility for those whom we might not consider inviting but whom God wants at the table.
The narrow door is for those who set aside their right to be in the Kingdom. Instead, and this is the paradox, the narrow door is having the vision of God as found in Isaiah, the breadth of humanity coming to the Lord in Jerusalem. Or the vision of humanity from the compass points of the earth seated at the banquet in the Kingdom. The narrow door is really a vision that sees and thinks as God sees and thinks. Jesus’ point is that God makes his own choices. He does the inviting and he does the saving. The Kingdom is always his. He is the host at the final banquet. We do not determine who is in and who is out. Our task is to be on the road following the Lord to Jerusalem. Our task and responsibility: you find salvation in dying to self and rising in the new creation Jesus establishes in the resurrection.
Fr. Joel Macul, OSB