Sunday Sermon for August 25, 2019, the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Is 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7, 11-13; Lk 13:22-30
In the first reading today we hear something that would seem unthinkable to the Jewish people who heard these words when Isaiah spoke them seven hundred years before our Lord came into the world. For generations after that these words must have caused a great deal of debate among the priests and theologians of the day. It is astounding enough that God would speak of gathering nations of every language to see His glory. To call these Gentiles “brothers and sisters” to the Jews would be unthinkable. To say some of them would be priests and Levites would be absolutely impossible to comprehend. After all, there is no way these Gentiles could have descended from Aaron in order to be priests.
In the Gospel Jesus speaks about people from the east and west, north and south reclining at table in the Kingdom of God. We have the great blessing to know how God fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and that the Gospel has been brought to people of every nation. This is a profound joy for those of us who do not have a Jewish background, but our joy must be tempered with a dose of reality. Jesus told the Jewish person who asked Him about whether only a few would be saved to try to enter through the narrow gate.
Jesus goes on to speak about the people who give Him lip service and even seem to live their faith to some degree, people who will ask the Lord to open the door for them to enter. He responds that He does not know where these people are from, and ultimately rejects them as evildoers. Our Lord’s answer to the question of whether many will be saved is directed at us who do claim to believe in Him. Have we lived our lives in such a way that He will open the narrow gate for us to enter, or will the door slam shut in our face because we do not live as children of our Heavenly Father?
This is where the teaching of St. Paul in the second reading becomes so important to us. He tells us not to disdain the discipline of God and tells us God disciplines those whom He loves. God treats us as His beloved children when He disciplines us. If there is no discipline, then we are not recognized by God as His children. This is a good measure for us to consider. Those who want to believe in the “Gospel of Health and Wealth” reject all suffering because “Jesus did it all for us.” They claim that if we are suffering it is because we have done something that offended God and now He is angry with us.
This is nonsense, complete balderdash! St. Paul teaches us that the discipline of God brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness is given to those who receive suffering as a gift and unite it with the suffering of Jesus. We can look at the suffering of Jesus and Mary who never sinned. We can look at the suffering of some of the Saints who never committed a mortal sin in their lives. Are we going to claim these people who were holy and served the Lord in love were suffering because God was angry with them because of something they did that offended Him? Unthinkable!
If holy people who have faithfully served the Lord for years are allowed by God to suffer to gain the fruit of righteousness, then when He allows those of us who are sinners to suffer, it is so we can learn the same lesson. The only way to get through the narrow gate is to endure the discipline of God. He will chip away the selfishness that plagues us, He will allow the evil one to attack us in order to grow in virtue, He will even allow us to fall so we learn dependence on Him.
If the only way into Heaven is through the narrow gate and Jesus tells us He is the gate, we want to be among those He recognizes so He opens the gate to us upon our arrival. We need to be purified so we become like Him. Thus, conformity to Christ is not through suffering alone, but through suffering and prayer. God’s discipline helps to strip us of our selfishness and clothes us with humility; the prayer helps us to grow in charity.
Jesus is the One who is humility and charity, so if we become like Him, He will recognize us and open the gate to us. Then we will see the ultimate fulfillment of His words and the words God spoke through Isaiah: we will be gathered from every nation to see His glory on His holy mountain, the heavenly Jerusalem!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.