FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 25, 2019:
I saw one of my favorite commercials on TV this week. It is a Staples commercial that shows an overjoyed Dad dancing behind a shopping cart around the store with two dejected-looking children behind him. The music playing in the background, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And the Dad screams gleefully, “They’re going back!!” I know that this is for many a conflicted time of year – for parents, rejoicing; for teachers and kids, dread – but I think today we can learn something valuable from it in terms of our faith.
Summer really is a wonderful time of year. Everything seems to move at a different pace. We put more emphasis on being with family and friends; on relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, good food, one another. We go to cookouts, baseball games, summer camp, the beach; we have vacation time, and so on. And especially as the days of summer begin to wane, we really want all of it to go on forever. But, the reality is that we know we must return to the orderliness, the discipline, the work of the school year. There’s just no quick or easy way around it. Despite the fact that many of us perhaps don’t want to go to school, or work, or back to the regular pace of life, we have to. We must return to gain knowledge, to learn how to live and interact in our society, to gain and perfect the skills we need in life; to earn the money we need to enjoy the pace of summer. We want summer to last forever, but eventually we have to return to regular life.
There is a similarly conflicted reality in what Jesus is telling his followers in today’s Gospel. Someone asks him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus responds, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This is not the answer they were looking for; I’m sure it’s not the answer we wanted to hear either. We would like Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, be happy. Do what you want, everyone is saved!”
But, I think rather than the wrong answer, the real problem here is that the man in our Gospel isn’t asking the right question. He asks, “Will only a few be saved?” when what he really should have asked was, “Lord, how can I be saved?” Rather than a mere curiosity about others being saved, we need to be asking, “What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve God better in my life today, right now? How can I reach out and be the kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving presence God has called me to be?”
Too often, we turn our faith into a matter of comparison. In other words, as long as there is someone else worse than me, then somehow I’m okay. But, our faith in Jesus isn’t comparative, it is personal. It is a one-on-one relationship with the very means of our salvation – Jesus Himself. Jesus shows us in Word and Sacrament everything we need to know for our salvation. The gate is indeed narrow and we have to do the hard work to be ready to walk through it. But the gate is not a mystery; it is not hidden. Jesus points us to the gate for our salvation; and the gate is open and it is the right size for each of us to walk through. All we have to do is follow the person ahead of us through that gate; and that person is Jesus.
We can feel sometimes like those who were turned away who said, “But, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We might feel the same way, “Lord, we have eaten Your Body and we drank of Your Blood and You taught in our Church. Isn’t this enough?”
To this Jesus says: “Eating and drinking beside Me is not the same as eating and drinking with Me. You can be near Me and not a part of Me. You can hear Me without ever listening to Me. You can know Me and still not accept Me. You can like Me while never loving Me. You see, I am not the one that is locking you out. You are locking yourself out. I’m not closing the door on you. It is you who close the door on Me. Acknowledge Me, accept Me, love Me and then follow Me through the door that leads to My Kingdom.”
This is how we pass through the Narrow Gate – by allowing God to change us, to form us, and transform us. Remember, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” My friends, let us ask today, “What must I do to be saved?” And may God give each of us the strength to follow.
May the Lord give you peace.