21st Sunday of OT year C:
Today Jesus is presented with a disconcerting kind of question: Lord will only a few people be saved. If you are like me, you are hoping that Jesus’ response is: no, no, everyone will be saved, don’t worry about a thing. But, the actual answer that Jesus gives is just as disconcerting as the question: many will attempt to enter, but they will not be strong enough. Then Jesus goes through this parable where the master of the house denies that he knows the people who are knocking.
This might be an important thing for us to remember. Salvation is not automatic. Salvation is not easy. Jesus calls it the narrow gate. We have to strive for this narrow gate. But, even if we do, many will not be strong enough to enter. Is Jesus basically telling us that few people are going to heaven? When I was in college I remember being quite worried when I read St. Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, Thomas asserts that salvation is not for the masses. Rather, salvation is only for the exceptional, the gifted. Being saved is like being a virtuoso piano player, a great athlete, or a mathematical genius. Sure these things come along, but not everyone who played the piano is a master, and not every Christian goes to heaven. If you are like me you would read this and get disappointed. If salvation is only for the exceptional, why should we even try? Why strive for that narrow gate if getting through it will be impossible?
If we read today’s passage out of the context of the whole message of Scripture, we might be pessimistic. We might think, like St. Thomas Aquinas, that salvation is a rarity. But, think of some of the passages we read in other places in the Bible: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that all those who believe in him might have eternal life. Also, God sent his son not to condemn the world but to save the world. Think of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, where we remember that the heart of Christ burns with fire for the salvation of the world; or, the Divine Mercy, where rays of love and mercy emanate from the heart of Christ.
So, when we think about the good news of salvation, then read today’s reading it seems somewhat contradictory. But, listen to it again: strive for the narrow gate, many will try but will not be strong enough to enter. What is that gate? It is the gateway to heaven, to paradise. If you think about it, none of us are strong enough to enter into paradise. This problem goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Because of Original Sin that narrow gate is closed. All of us are sinners, none of us can earn salvation, none of us can earn our way into heaven. But, in the history of the world there was one man who could earn salvation, there was one man who was strong enough to enter that narrow gate. That one man is Jesus Christ.
I think we should take with us a few key points today. Salvation is not automatic. It is a narrow gate that leads to salvation. In fact, we cannot make it on our own. But, that is ok, because God sent his son Jesus to be our savior. The quicker we realize that we will never make it without Christ, the sooner we will turn to him in our weakness, the sooner we will rely on his strength and not our own.
We are about to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which is often called the sacrament of our salvation, because it is the sacrament of the very offering of Christ on the Cross. Right here on this altar we participate in the salvation that Christ won for us. When we receive this Holy Communion we are united to Christ, the one who is strong enough to enter through that narrow gate. Because of our communion with Christ, we believe that he will take us with him. So today’s gospel reading is not meant to make us pessimistic, rather it should make us thankful, thankful that while we might not be strong enough to make it on our own, God loved us so much that he sent his Son to be our savior.