To read the texts: Is 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7,11-13; Lk 13:22-30
Someone once said, “It is the very people who do not know what to do with this life who are concerned about the next”. Concerns about the next life or what will happen after death are issues that so many are worried and anxious about. In many cases, this leads to not being able to live fully the present life which has so much to offer.
This seems to be the background to the question that Jesus is asked at the beginning of the Gospel text of today; “Lord, will only a few be saved?” In his response to the question, Jesus does not state whether few or many will be saved. Rather, he asks all those who listen to him to live fully in the present. The present will determine the future and so we are not to be concerned with the future but with the here and now. Now is the time when the effort must be made. Now is the time when life must be lived. Now is the time to prepare for what is to come.
What does it mean that one must strive to enter by the narrow door? The text answers this question, though not directly. There are three reasons why many will not succeed in entering. Some will be excluded because they will try to get in when it is too late. Others will be excluded because they will not have acted on the instructions of Jesus. Still others will be excluded because they performed evil and not good actions. Those who did not act will have assumed that words alone would suffice to get them through, but they will be mistaken. These are the ones who will weep and gnash their teeth and for those who have not teeth, a set will be provided.
On the other hand, people will come from all corners of the world and gain entry into the kingdom. These will have gained entry, not on their antecedents or background but because they did strive to enter by the narrow door. They were ready on time, they acted on the instructions of Jesus, and their actions were good. They, who were considered last by many, will indeed be first. This is the group mentioned in the first reading of today who will come from all nations. This is not an exclusive group. Their works and thoughts are known to God and through them, they have declared God’s glory. These are the ones who are invited to the feast in the kingdom of God for they acted wisely and well.
Thus, it is not merely being familiar with the teachings of the Lord that is important or even knowing the Lord by name. What is important is action. To be sure, one’s good action alone is not the determining factor, since the grace of God and God’s choice is also instrumental in the final list that is made. However, even as this is true, one’s action is imperative, even vital, to gain entry into the kingdom. This further indicates that the religion that Jesus urges people to practice is not merely one which is content to recite a set formula of prayers, or to participate passively in rituals, or even to proclaim aloud that Jesus is Lord. No. The religion to which he invites his listeners is one which will show itself in action. It is one in which prayers, rituals, and proclamation will be informed and influenced by the loving actions that one performs and not the other way round. The prayers of praise to God are the result of the actions that show this praise.
This kind of religion is not easy to practice, as the second reading of today points out. There will be numerous trials that have to be endured and often, there will be the temptation to give up. It will seem so much simpler to simply say, rather than do. It will be so much simpler to mouth empty prayers, rather than act on the Lord’s commands. What is called for, however, is a steadfastness, a resoluteness, and a sense of purpose. What is called for is not worry about the future and its outcome but to keep one’s eyes, mind, heart, and whole being, fixed on the present. What is required is to know that the present determines the future.
We, as Christians, are in special danger of not heeding the instructions of Jesus. This is because, all too often, Christianity has been understood as a sterile and theoretical religion. Many of us are content with fulfilling “obligations” and with reciting prayers. We are content to give occasional alms and to separate the practice of our faith from our lives.
Some of us think that, because we have been baptized, we are sure to enter the kingdom. However, the readings of today point out that this is far from true. None of us can take for granted that we will gain entry into the kingdom. It is precisely for this reason why it is important for us, as disciples of Jesus, not to be too concerned about the next life but to concentrate on the present one and to live it fully. If we know how to live fully in this life, we will be able to live fully in the next.