Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 21, 2016 - God Is Love

The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Reading I:  Isaiah 66:18-21
Response:  Psalm 117:12
Reading II:  Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13
Gospel:  Luke 13: 22-30    

While Jesus was teaching, someone asked him “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  His answer was, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate.’ [This refers to a narrow passageway in the mountains range through which the shepherds must drive their sheep. These ways can be dangerous and some sheep do not make it through.] Then, Jesus tells a parable which may surprise us!!!

The parable in today’s Gospel seems like a contradiction to the one on the 17th Sunday in which a man wanting to borrow bread is knocking on the door of his friend at midnight. Because of the man’s persistence, the friend senses that this is probably an emergency. Also, because of his friendship he is willing to possibly awaken the whole family in order to respond to the man’s needs. [It could well be that they lived in a one-room home and slept on sheepskins like our Southwestern Navajos did. Even today, some live in the octagon-shaped hogans with only a fireplace in the center.]

On the other hand, in today’s parable — a story to teach a lesson,  Jesus says that the one knocking on the door will call out, ‘Lord open the door for us.’  Since there has been no prior relationship, the master of the house will say in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ The response will be, ‘We ate and drank in your company, and you taught on our streets.’ The master will repeat ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me you evildoers!’ Jesus compares this with the situation when we knock on the door to heaven. If we have not developed a friendship with the Lord and lived a life of love for his children, we will not experience heaven. There will be ‘wailing and grinding of teeth’ when we see others in the Kingdom of God and we ourselves are outside.

This brings up a question about God’s goodness...How can a merciful and loving God send someone to hell for all eternity? 

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, addresses the question in the following way:
God, Jesus tells us, doesn’t judge anyone. We judge ourselves. God doesn’t create hell and God doesn’t send anyone to hell. But that does not mean that hell doesn’t exist and that it isn’t a possibility for us. Here, in essence, is how Jesus explains this:

God sends his life [love] into the world and we can choose that life or reject it We judge
ourselves in making that choice. If we choose life, we are ultimately choosing heaven. If we reject life we live outside of life and that is ultimately hell. But we make that choice, God doesn’t send us anywhere. Moreover, hell is not a positive punishment created by God to make us suffer. Hell is the absence of something, namely, living inside of the life [love] that’s offered to us.

Fr. Rolheiser goes on to say, “Hell is real, but it isn’t a positive punishment created by God to deal out justice or vengeance....Hell is the absence of life, of love, of forgiveness, of community.  We can end up there, outside of love and community, but that’s a choice we make if we, culpably, reject these as they are offered to us during our lifetime.”

The reason I have chosen the above picture to represent the entrance into heaven is based on the fact that people who have had an near-death experience often refer to being drawn by a beautiful white light.  Each of us tend to visualize Jesus according to our own race and nationality, so it is not possible to illustrate a universal Christ.

The human Jesus must have resembled the people of  his native land. In 1982, when I made a retreat in the Holy Land, I took pictures of  some children playing. I figured that, that was how the boy Jesus must have looked. Also, we were shown the type adobe homes in which the people lived. We even saw the caves which were used to shelter the animals.  It was likely that Jesus was born in such a cave.

I had never been in the Southwest before I went to teach at St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1984. To my surprise I noted that the climate and land were similar to the Holy Land. The Native people had the tan skin and dark hair that I had seen there also. When I visited the Pueblo villages, I saw homes similar to the one’s in the Israel.

Later, when teaching at St. Michael Indian School and Dine College on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, I was thrilled to see real shepherds. One of our Associates in Ganado was still caring for her sheep with great affection even into her old age. I was always attracted to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. However, my experiences in the Southwest greatly strengthened my love for Jesus, our Loving Shepherd.

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Let us follow his way of love, and then we will not need to be concerned about eternity.


  1. Several times throughout my working years the companies for which I worked merged, down-sized, or reorganized resulting in lay-offs. During those periods of not knowing, I would inquire from the Human Resources person, “so how many people do you think will be cut”? My actual question should have been, “Will I be cut”? Fear kept me from asking that direct inquiry. I rationalized that some intervention might occur that would save me from the cut. The story in today’s gospel reminded me of those times.
    I could see myself asking, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Rather than asking, “Lord, how are things looking for me personally to gain entrance into Heaven?” The difference between the lay-off situation and the eternity question is that I had no control over the decision on being laid off; however, I do have significant control over entry into eternity. Further, if I need to ask that question at all, I already know that I am falling short of what I was created and given the gift of life to do.
    Our Lord certainly desires that we enter into Eternal Life. Jesus died that we could be saved but it is not a given that all God’s children are going Home. Jesus is real and so my response to him must be real. It is my responsibility to develop a relationship with Jesus and to consciously choose life-affirming, loving responses in all my thoughts, words, and actions. Striving to enter through the narrow gate entails that I constantly nurture the life of the Spirit of Jesus within me. Knowing that I am infinitely loved by God should help me in making that love visible in the world. As you so wonderfully reminded us, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Let us follow faithfully where He leads so He will welcome us warmly when we knock on Heaven’s door.

  2. The gospel for this Sunday,dealing as it does with the prospect of our ultimate destiny, presents considerations of inestimable importance to all of us. We notice that, when questioned about the number of people to be saved, Jesus did not respond with an exact total because God has given us free will and continues to respect it. The choice is ours. ( Do we desire salvation? Surely, the answer to this question is obvious.) Our Savior's advice about striving to enter through the narrow gate basically means that we should keep God's commandments (especially the laws of love) and maintain contact with Him through prayer, etc. Let's ardently hope that each and all of us will be among those blessed people who "will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God." We all agree wholeheartedly, I am sure, Sister, that we intensely hope to be welcomed warmly when we knock on the door of Heaven!

    "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal, but store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Matthew 7: 19-21)