21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66, 18-21 + Psalm 117 + Hebrews 12, 5-7, 11-13 + Luke 13, 22-30
August 21, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
As some of you may know, I travel perhaps bit more often and further than many people my age. The experience is growing more and more unpleasant. I think when I was younger trips were as much fun as the destinations. Mom packed great treats for us that would be offered just before one of us in the back seat would say, ‘How much longer?” or “Are we there yet?” These days it is a whole different experience. Plane travel is the most unbelievable torment not all of which is caused by the airline’s belief that we are all about 5’ 4” and our bottoms and shoulders are all less than 22 inches wide. I do believe that their decision to make more money by charging for checked baggage has contributed to it, so watching what people carry into an airliner these days is absolutely amazing. For one who usually travels lightly, the purses, bags, sacks, suitcases, garment bags, and now dogs and cats that people cram under the seat and stuff into overhead bins designed for briefcases is amazing. It not only takes longer to get everyone in, it seems to take longer to get every off. It adds to a measure of hostility that is already there because you’re late. So, many plan, scheme, and pay extra to get on early and capture what limited space there is. All of this makes today’s Gospel as timely now as it was the first time Jesus spoke these words.
The question that prompts this conversation and these parables is perfectly sensible in an age when there was only so much to go around, and things always did run out. So wondering about how this salvation thing was going to work was not out unusual. Add to the fact that people in those days probably could and did carry all their personal belongings with them whenever they went somewhere makes sense again. In his preaching Jesus has already upended the usual thinking that those who have the most are the ones blessed by God and most favored. So curiosity about how and who would get into the Kingdom of God was worth thinking about.
It never occurs to us living in this land of plenty that somehow there might not be room for us in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Gospel we proclaim today would call into question our thinking and our behavior. Jesus makes it clear that we can be saved, but getting there is not easy and we will have to shed of few things to make it. Too much stuff, too many unresolved issues is going to make it harder if not impossible. The door is small and narrow – we are pilgrims who need to travel light. Unforgiven offenses, grudges, prejudice, hatred, racism are all things that will not fit through the narrow door. We need to decide what matters and what does not, and take the time now to look at what kind of baggage we carry.
That second parable states the case even more firmly. That door is not going to be open forever. Delay or putting off what we need to do to prepare is dangerous because entrance into the Kingdom will have nothing to do with who we know or the stuff we have piled up. It will have to do with how carefully and how successfully we have conformed our lives to the one who leads us there. One look at that cross tells us everything. When he entered into his glory and came back before his Father, he had nothing left having breathed his last and poured out his blood.
“It is what it is” the saying goes. This is how it is, says the Gospel. He door is narrow and we will be wise to travel lightly having shed anything at all that slows us down, and the door will sooner or later be closed once and for all. It would not be wise to be found on the outside. Excuses, name dropping, and for that matter any other claim will go unheard. A simple faithful life focused on the destination is what it takes. Our claim on a place there will have nothing to do with where we’ve lived, who we know, or for that matter, what we’ve done except conform our lives to his.