Breath of the Spirit: If We Journey, Then We Can Hope
About one-quarter of Luke’s gospel is taken up by Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem where, like the previous prophets of Israel, he is destined to die. Jesus does not pull punches along the way – the journey will be difficult at times, and it will end in suffering and death. However, the journey also offers us hope. If we are willing to change our own direction, we too may walk in the footsteps of the Messiah. Even though we may not have been with Jesus at the beginning, we always have to opportunity to walk along the Way.
August 21, 2022: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Psalm 117:1, 2
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
If We Journey, Then We Can Hope
A reflection by David Jackson
“Lord will only a few be saved?”
The section of Luke’s gospel from which today’s passage is taken contains several references to the seriousness of the proclamation of God’s reign and to the need for a sober decision to undertake the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. A journey that will end in suffering and death. Three times in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus announces the upcoming passion. In Luke, after the second prediction, we find these words, “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” The third and final prediction of the Passion is found in Luke chapter 18:31-34, when Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is coming to its conclusion. The third prediction is the most detailed: “For he will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
In today’s passage, Luke reminds us that Jesus is still on the journey to Jerusalem. The questions along the way offer Jesus the opportunity to mention once again the difficulties involved in discipleship. He does not answer the question whether few will be saved but instead comments that many will not be. This passage has many harsh words, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” The Greek word for “attempt” is agonizesthi, it contains a sense of agony. A famous English writer, G.K. Chesterton said something similar to this: “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult; and not been tried.” With the disciples, we risk hearing the dreadful words, “I do not know where you are from.”
There is specific mention of the sad case of those who had been under the illusion that they were following Jesus but had maintained only a loose relationship with him. They ate and drank together, and Jesus taught in their streets. But something was missing. In Matthew the disciples plead, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” But even with all this they still hear the harsh words, “Depart from me you evildoers!” These harsh words are a challenge to us to redirect our steps towards Jerusalem with Jesus while there is still time.
The unbelieving German Philosopher Nietzsche wrote, “If Christians wish us to believe in their Redeemer, why don’t they look a little more redeemed?” The patriarchs, matriarchs, and prophets of Israel are waiting to share the banquet of Divine Love with those who are now on the way. Many of those who ate and drank with Jesus will not be there (“and you yourselves cast out”). But there will be others who never knew Jesus by name while they were on earth. People come into the Divine Reign of Love from every corner of creation, and every conceivable expression of faith. Are we among them? Is our walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem obvious to all by the way we care for others, especially those with whom we disagree? Jesus has been clear, the walk will not be easy nor devoid of suffering.
We are challenged to not take for granted our eating and drinking with Jesus at the Eucharist. The final words of today’s passage guard against both presumption and despair - “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” - as long as the journey is underway, some may fall away and others may still join. So long as we are on the journey, we can always turn toward Jerusalem to walk more closely to Jesus.
What was the reason the questioner asked: “Will only a few be saved?” Was he among the Pharisees that presumed they were saved? Was Jesus rebuking him? Or was this a man who society considered a sinner? Was he wanting to know if he could be saved?
What does the image of the “narrow door” mean in our lives? One man said, “the door to my daughter’s bedroom seems to become narrow at times. If I ask her to clean up her room, it’s very narrow.” Another woman said, “the peace prayer of St. Francis shows us many narrow doors, replace hatred with love, injury with pardon, doubt with true faith, despair, hope, darkness with light, sadness with joy. Not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand., in pardoning we are pardoned, in giving of ourselves that we receive.” The narrow door can be a part of a city’s fortifications. To enter we have to get rid of some baggage. What is the baggage – addiction, attitude, anger, compulsion, etc. – am I being asked to get rid of?
As a Catholic priest for 48 years David Jackson preached on most Sundays. Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark's Story by Ched Myers has been his go to for Cycle B, Mark. His love of Scripture led him to pursue an M.A. from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. For the past 16 years, he has sent out homily reflections to friends. For the last two years these reflections have also been available on Roman Catholic Women Priests Canada's bimonthly newsletter. Since he discovered Catholic Women Preach, that web site is part of his weekly preparation. At 82 years of age, he has been married for the last ten years to the love of his life, Alva. In March he published his first book, Jesus Gardens Me, available on Amazon.