Sunday, August 25, 2013

How are we saved? (Sunday homily)

When reading or listening to a Gospel passage like this one, 
you may notice something: 
many times, our Lord’s answer to a question 
doesn’t actually answer the question!

It starts with, “Someone asked him, Lord, will only a few be saved?”

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—
does that sound like “few”?

What our Lord was doing 
was actually answering the question that the person should have asked.

And that question wasn’t, how many will be saved, 
but rather, 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.”

We 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.
Which is exactly what the Lord said elsewhere:
He is the gate, protecting the sheep; 
the sheep enter, but he keeps out the wolves.

A narrow gate doesn’t mean only few enter; 
it means you have to be patient.

It also means that while you might squeeze in,
The stuff we drag along, won’t.

This got me thinking about when you board a plane,
And people are bringing their stuff on the plane.
And they’re trying to jam what looks like a mattress 
into the overhead compartment, 
and they’re saying, “oh, it always fit before”!

If we don’t try to bring stuff, no problem with the gate.
And for heaven, that means all kinds of baggage.

A lot of folks carry a heavy load of unforgiveness.
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.”

Well, listen up: none of us is “strong enough”!

We 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!

We do not walk into heaven on our own!
Remember what Jesus said about the lost sheep?
How does it get home? 
He puts it on his shoulders.

Jesus is “strong enough”—and he will carry us through!
But he probably will say, 
“but leave that—and that—and especially that.”

Till now, there’s a word I haven’t uttered: hell.
Is hell real? Sounds like it is.

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 we find in heaven a person we can’t forgive?
What are our choices at that point?
Entering heaven means letting go of that.
And if we can’t? What’s left?

The conclusion I reach is this:
No one is “sent to hell” as much as people refuse heaven.

If you’re interested, 
C.S. Lewis actually wrote about book about that, 
called The Great Divorce.
His argument is that hell is real—
and its gates are locked from the inside.

By the way, this is a good time to mention 
how we get rid of the baggage: go to confession!
The confessional is the spiritual garbage-dump.
And one way to find the power to forgive is to experience forgiveness.
The more we feel real gratitude for how much is forgiven us, the easier it is to forgive.
So again: go to confession.

One more thing about the “few” versus “many.”

Do you remember when, three years ago, 
we were preparing for the new translation of the Mass prayers?

And there was some concern about the use of “many” 
in the Eucharistic Prayer.

But as far as we know, that’s what our Lord said at the Last Supper.
That’s where he answers the question posed in today’s Gospel:
“This is the cup of my blood, 
the blood of the new and eternal covenant, 

poured out for you and for…many.

How are we saved? Jesus is the “how.”

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