21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Psalm 117:1, 2 (Mark 6:15)
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
August 25, 2019
Jesus is asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”.
Taken at face value, the question might be interpreted as simply asking how many people are in Heaven? Conversely, one might ask, “does anyone really end up in Hell?”
Some people today think that because God is merciful, everyone gets into Heaven. After all, our psalm and first reading today both refer to “all”, even those from “distant coastlands” getting in.
That is our hope but, unfortunately, I think it leads some people to take God and his mercy for granted. Behind this is the thought that if everyone gets into Heaven, then they can do whatever they want, good or bad, and still get in.
It might be as simple as thinking that we don’t have to worry about going to church every week because God doesn’t care if we are there all the time. It might lead some to think that it is okay to sin and just seek God’s mercy after that. If you feel that way, you might ask yourself, how do you feel when someone knowingly does something that wrongs you and assumes you will forgive them?
On a positive note, our Church does teach that we know at least some people have already been welcomed into Heaven. We call them saints. I will be talking about the saints in a short series of presentations starting in a couple of weeks. You can read more about those presentations in the bulletin.
So, what is Jesus’ response to the person asking, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
Jesus does NOT say everyone gets into Heaven. Nor does He say most people get into Heaven. Actually, He never specifies any kind of number. He does indicate that some do not when He says that some will seem themselves “cast out.”
Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough to enter.” Jesus clearly says not everyone can get into Heaven, at least they won’t get in on their own.
What does it take to get in? Based on Jesus’ discussion, it is not enough just to show up in prayer once in a while. To those who say, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets,” and thought that was enough, Jesus says, “I do not know where you are from.”
This might be pretty scary to hear. One might fear that they might be one of those people who just shows up once in a while.
The good news is that, as we read in Isaiah, the Lord says, “I know their works and their thoughts.” God knows when we are sincerely trying as He knows our thoughts. It also means He knows when we are not sincere in our efforts to follow him.
So, we need to “strive” to follow him.
I emphasis “strive” as it is what Jesus himself says because He knows we are not perfect in the sense of always following him. He knows our weaknesses.
We cannot save ourselves but Jesus can save us.
We call it the Crucifixion. We think of all the suffering Jesus endured during his Passion. He did not endure his Passion for himself. He did it for us. His willingly handed over his life on the Cross so that our sins might be forgiven. His willingness to do this flows from his absolute love for us.
We need to embrace the Lord’s love, the love of the Cross, and the love of which Hebrews speaks of as “discipline.”
Discipline…. when we hear the word, I imagine that a number of people are thinking of “punishment.” By punishment, some might think of physical punishment, maybe even abuse. That is not the way the Lord treats us when we sin against him.
He does discipline us just like our parents are supposed to. A parent is never to discipline out of hate or anger. True discipline is an act of love. Hear the words from Hebrews, “for who the Lord loves, he disciplines” and “for what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline.”
When we are young, true discipline from our parents happens because they love us and want us to learn to be good people. This means teaching us right and wrong. To do so requires consequences.
Just as our parents teaching is to be rooted in love, so too is Jesus’ teaching rooted in his love for us. Jesus did not simply come, die on the Cross for our sins, and be gone. No, He first spent time teaching what it means to follow him, what it means to follow the Commandments.
Then, on the Cross He took the punishment for our sins on himself.
Jesus wants everyone, Jesus wants you to be in Heaven.
Listen to his teaching. Strive to follow it. When you fall short, confess your sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When you do all this, God will give you the gift of salvation and welcome you into Heaven.