Why bother?

Reflection on the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 25, 2019

Why bother?
Rex Lago Paras

For the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel proclaimed to us is Luke 13:22-30. Immediately before this passage, Jesus relates two parables about the kingdom of God—the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Lk 13:18-19) and the Parable of the Yeast (Lk 13:20-21). After Jesus has likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed and yeast, someone asks him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” (Lk 13:23) We are probably as curious as the inquirer in the Gospel to know the answer to this question and, more importantly, to know whether or not we will belong to those who will inherit the kingdom of God.

The question, found in the opening lines of the Gospel this Sunday, is met with an interesting answer from Jesus, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Lk 13:24) Many will probably characterize Jesus’ reply as unresponsive. His statement does not exactly answer the query posed as to whether few or many people will be saved. Instead of providing us with a number of those who will be saved, Jesus exhorts us to “[s]trive to enter through the narrow door.” The exhortation is reminiscent of Jesus’ reply to “[the] scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus” (Lk 10:25) which led to the narration of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a passage proclaimed to us several weeks ago. The scholar of the law asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 10:25) Aside from telling the scholar of the law to follow the commandments, Jesus also instructs him to emulate the Good Samaritan.

We have heard the story of the Good Samaritan many times, but most, if not all of us, still find it difficult to follow in his footsteps. Living by the example left to us by the Good Samaritan is a daunting task because the invitation to be a Good Samaritan is not only to “love…your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:25), but also “to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Lk 6:27-28) Truly, it is like entering through a narrow door. We can attempt to enter but not all of us are strong enough to pass through. Jesus himself speaks quite frankly about how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus tells us that “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Lk 18:25)

The difficulty of entering the kingdom of God is consistent with the persona of a jealous and demanding God which could be gleaned from the conclusion of Chapter 9 of the Lucan Gospel (Lk 9:51-62), the reading a couple of months ago during the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Reflecting on that particular passage then, which introduced us to “[t]he [w]ould-be [f]ollowers of Jesus,” we had the occasion to consider the commentary in the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), which described Jesus’ words to his potential followers as indicative of “the severity and the unconditional nature of Christian discipleship. Even family ties and filial obligations, such as burying one’s parents, cannot distract one no matter how briefly from proclaiming the kingdom of God.” 

As if realizing “[w]hat a demanding God we have[,]” was not enough, here we are, confronted this Sunday, with another passage telling us how difficult it is to follow Jesus and to enter the kingdom of God. This leads us to ask, as Jesus’ disciples did, “Then who can be saved?” (Mk 10:26) Jesus, enlightening as ever, provides us with this answer, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” (Mk 10:26) While Jesus may have been brutally honest with us in illustrating how challenging it is to enter through the narrow door, in the end, he assures us that with God, nothing is impossible.

And so, during the times when we lose heart and are discouraged from doing and continuing our undeniably difficult mission as followers of Christ, we turn to God for the grace to carry on with our calling. We implore Him to mold us and make us strong enough to enter through the narrow door. We pray for the courage to “go, sell what [we] have, and give to [the] poor [so that we] will have treasure in heaven.” (Mt 19:21) Unlike the rich young man who, after hearing Jesus’ statement, “went away sad” (Mt 19:21), may we respond wholeheartedly to Jesus’ invitation to “come, follow [him].” (Mt 19:21)

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