"Crucifix" by Byzantine artist, Cimabue (1272).
Ps 117:1, 2
Heb 12:5-7, 11-13
Over the past few weeks we have heard,
in the readings from the Gospel according to St. Luke, about Jesus
journeying up to Jerusalem to face arrest, suffering, and death (cf.
Lk. 9:22, 43-45). Along the way he was spurned by a Samaritan
village, he sent out seventy disciples to proclaim the kingdom of
God, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and he visited Mary
and Martha. He also taught about prayer, hypocrisy, riches, and
As varied as these matters were, they
all were addressed with a singularity of purpose, for the good
shepherd was working to gather in lost sheep while demonstrating that
he was the promised Messiah who would deliver the remnant of faithful
from spiritual exile. His Passion would reveal the deeper meaning of
his teachings, and his death and resurrection in Jerusalem would
point the way to the heavenly banquet in the new Jerusalem. This is
what Ad Gentes, the Vatican II decree on mission activity of
the Church, called “narrow way of the cross.”
In today’s reading we hear that as
Jesus made his way through “towns and villages” someone asked,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” It appears to be a fair
enough question. In fact, haven’t we all, at one time or another,
wondered the same thing? How many will be saved? Most? Only a few?
What about my neighbor? My boss? So it is a bit bracing to read
St. Cyril of Alexandria’s comment that Jesus “is purposely silent
to the useless question.” Cyril pointed out that Jesus refocuses
the man’s attentionand our attention as wellon the questions
that should concern us. “He proceeds to speak of what was
essential, namely, of the knowledge necessary for the performance of
those duties by which people can enter the narrow door.”
Today’s Old Testament reading, from
the conclusion of the Book of Isaiah, seems to present something of a
paradox when put alongside the Gospel. Isaiah foretold of a coming
time when God would widen the way of salvation to include Gentiles
from “the nations.” This, in fact, had been his intention all
along, as his covenant with Abram indicated: “…and by you all the
families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen. 12:3). Yet even
more surprising was the declaration through Isaiah that some of those
Gentiles would become priests. This gathering of the nations would
establish a new family of Godthe Churchfree of ethnic criteria.
These people, Jesus stated, will come from all four corners of the
earth “and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
Yet each of them will have to enter
through the narrow gate, and many will fail for lack of strength. In
considering this, we must recognize that the graciousness of God’s
call is not incompatible with the difficulty of the journey. All that
is good and worthwhile requires effort, fidelity, and sacrifice.
Jesus warns, as he did many times, that being born into the family of
God does not exempt anyone from striving, by God’s grace, to be a
true son and daughter of God. Being baptized as a baby doesn’t
allow anyone to remain a spiritual baby, but grants divine life that
is meant to grow and mature. And, as the Epistle to the Hebrews
teaches, those who are sons will undergo discipline and experience
trials, which eventually “brings the peaceful fruit of
Some of the Jews rejected God’s
discipline via the physical Exile and so remained in spiritual exile.
We, too, can turn away from God’s reproval and lose our way.
Confession, prayer, and Holy Communion are essential for our
spiritual health and growth. “Thus from celebration to
celebration,” states, the Catechism, “as they proclaim the
Paschal mystery of Jesus ‘until he comes,’ the pilgrim People of
God advances, ‘following the narrow way of the cross,’ toward the
heavenly banquet, when all the elect will be seated at the table of
the kingdom” (CCC, par. 1344).
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the August 22, 2010, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)