Today’s Gospel is a sobering summons to be serious about our spiritual life. Now it is a sad fact today that many, if not most people are not serious about their spiritual life. They do not pray, they do not read scripture, do not attend Mass or go to confession. They are playing around and goofing off like life were some big joke. They are often locked in serious and unrepented sin and will not be ready when judgment day comes. It is just a fact.
Perhaps you think I am overly pessimistic but I would argue that I am on strong biblical grounds. In today’s Gospel the Lord dispatches one of the most common errors of today. The error held is that most people are going to heaven. The Lord rather directly refutes this and summons us to be sober and serious in seeking salvation. Let’s look at the readings for today in three stages.
1. The Danger Described. – Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough (Luke 13:22-23). Elsewhere Jesus elaborated on this more: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mat 7:13-15). So, when asked if those to be saved are many or few the Lord answers, “Few” and goes on to describe that “many” will be unable to enter the Kingdom of Heaven but are on the wide and easy road that leads to destruction – see photo above right!
This of course flies in the face of what most people think today. We have to be sober about this and realize that many live lives that show little interest in God or the Kingdom of God. At some point this decision becomes final and God accepts their disinterest as their final choice. Beware! To persist in worldliness and to be self absorbed increasingly becomes our final disposition.
Now it is true that every says they want to go to heaven. But it is usually a heaven that they have invented. But the real heaven is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God has values that many people today do not want. It is a place where justice, mercy, generosity and chastity are celebrated. Now it is clear today that many today are not interested in forgiving those who have hurt them. They do not want to love their enemy. They surely do not want to live chastely. The concept of justice annoys them and usually makes them suspicious that someone is after their money. Generosity too annoys them for they would rather not part with a dime. But this is what the Kingdom of God is all about and what is celebrated in heaven.
Further, heaven is described in the Book of Revelation (4,5,8) as like a liturgy where God is at the center and is praised. Hymns are sung, a scroll containing the meaning of all things (Scripture) is read and the Lamb is on a throne-like altar. There are candles incense, prostrations, standing and all the things of the Mass. Now many people today say by their absence from Mass that none of this interests them. OK fine, God will not force it on any of them. Neither will he force them to accept the values of the Kingdom of God. But THIS is what heaven is about, the fullness of the Kingdom.
Now as time goes on, a person grows hardened in their aversion to the Kingdom of God, to heaven. Eventually their aversion becomes forever fixed. So on Judgment Day they are not able to enter heaven and frankly would not be happy there anyway. So here is the danger: walking the wide and worldly road that hardens the heart to God and the things of God so that heaven is “not able” to be tolerated. Hell is not God’s fault, it is the preference of damned who have hardened their hearts to God and the realities of the true (not the fanciful) heaven.
2. The Divine Desire. Now God does not want hell for anyone. He does not rejoice in the decision of the damned but he does respect it. God is clear he wants to save everyone: As surely as I live, says the LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11-12) Thus in today’s First Reading there is described how God widens the call of salvation to the whole world: I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. …that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. …Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD. (Is 66:18-21) Yes indeed, the Lord wants to bring people from every nation and race to his kingdom. The Lord wants to save us all. So the problem of Hell is not about God and what He wants, it is about us and what we want. God will ultimately respect our final choice. I have written more on this here: http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/hell-has-to-be/
3. The Delivering Discipline This then leads to a manner in which we can be sober and serious in seeking salvation. It is described in the 2nd reading today: My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it (Heb 12:5-7). We have a clear call from the Lord to submit our lives to his discipline and training. Notice how closely related the discipline is to discipleship. The Lord has a discipline for us that makes us true disciples.
Our discipline includes daily prayer, daily scripture, daily repentance, frequent confession, Mass every Sunday. We are to grow in the training of the Lord which comes from the study of our faith and the reception of the Sacraments. As we do this we grow in desire for the things of God and heaven. We come to share the kingdom values and are less worldly. More and more we start to love who and what God loves, we start to have His priorities, are transformed by the renewal of our minds. This is what God’s discipline, what his teaching, grace and mercy do for us.
So, in the end, God is not our enemy, he is our Savior and the only one who can get us ready for judgment day. But we have to be sober and serious in seeking salvation. All the playing around and goofing off, the presumption and worldliness has to end. The Letter to the Hebrews from today’s second reading has three last things to tell us:
- So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees – In other words lift up your hands in prayer and have strong knees that are accustomed to kneeling in prayer.
- Make straight paths for your feet – get off that wide road that leads to destruction and get on the narrow path that leads to God. The Next time some one calls you narrow minded thank them and invite them to join you!
- that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed – Sin makes us lame, weak and tired of doing good. But get used to walking the straight and narrow path that is uphill to heaven and watch your strength grow, and your weak knees be healed.
Here’s an excerpt from a Funeral Sermon I posted some time ago that seems apt for today’s theme: