Sunday, August 25, 2019

Ask the right question: not how many, but how (Sunday homily)

Perhaps you have noticed that there are times when 
someone asks Jesus a question, 
but his response doesn’t really answer the question!

What Jesus is doing is answering the question 
that should have been asked.

So, today, “Someone asked him, Lord, will only a few be saved?”

But what does Jesus say? 
First, he refers to a narrow gate—so that sounds like “few,” right?

But, later, he refers to people coming from east and west, 
north and south—that sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

So the question Jesus actually answered was, 
not “how many” are saved; but simply, how to be saved.

So, how are we saved? By striving to enter the “narrow gate.”

In the Gospel of John, 
Jesus says, “I am the gate, 
and whoever enters through Me will be saved.”

Someone might wonder why the gate is “narrow.”
That sounds bad.
But remember why cities, in his time, had gates:
Because they also had walls.
And walls are for safety-to keep out threats.
In our day, those walls and gates are at the border.
In our Lord’s time, they were around cities.

And narrow gates mean you can see clearly who comes and goes.
And that seems perfectly apt for Judgment Day:
No one will slip by into the Kingdom. 
One by one, you and I will meet the gaze of Jesus our King, 
and either he knows us, or not.

A narrow gate doesn’t mean only few enter; 
it means you have to be patient and wait your turn.
It also means that while you might squeeze in,
Nothing you bring along will.

A lot of folks carry a heavy load of unforgiveness and bitter memory.
Did you ever consider that one of the first people 
you meet in heaven might be that person who you say you can’t forgive?

What will you do then?

Notice what our Lord said:
“Many will attempt to enter, but won’t be strong enough.”
In fact, none of us is “strong enough”! No one!

You and I have got to drive out of our minds  
every last trace of the idea that any of us 
gets to heaven because we’re good enough!

No one walks into heaven on her own!
Remember what Jesus said about the lost sheep?
How does it get home? 
The Lord puts it on his shoulders.

Because Jesus is “strong enough”—and he will carry us through!
But he probably will say, 
“I’m not carrying all that other junk. Just you!”
Till now, there’s a word I haven’t uttered: hell.
Is hell real? Jesus thinks so. He talks about it a LOT.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that people will be cast out, 
because he never knew them.
What that means is that there was never a true friendship.
Sure, they ate and drank with him—but they didn’t know Jesus, 
which is to say, they didn’t want to know him, not as he actually is.

We all love it when he says stuff we like;
And we shift around uncomfortably when he says things we don’t:
Whether it’s about money, or sex, or forgiveness, or suffering or ego.

I asked, a moment ago, 
what if you find in heaven a person you can’t forgive?
What are our choices at that point?
Entering heaven means letting go of that.
And if you can’t? What’s left?

The conclusion I reach is this:
No one is “sent to hell” as much as people refuse heaven.
We “refuse” heaven by refusing the graces God gives us.

Many times I’ve had someone come to confession, 
with deep remorse, and very fearful about God’s judgment 
because their sins weigh heavily, and they fail so frequently.

I told them, and I tell you: that no matter what sins you battle,
No matter how many times you fall down, 
If you keep coming to confession, you will go to heaven!

And circling back to the difficulty of forgiving other people:
one way we grow in the power to give forgiveness
is to experience forgiveness the more powerfully.

That is to say:
The deeper the gratitude you and I feel for what we’ve been forgiven,
The easier we will find it go give forgiveness to others.
So again: go to confession.

Jesus was telling that person he met that day,
it’s not about how many are saved, but HOW to be saved.

And he, Jesus, is the “how.”

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