Lord, will only a few people be saved? (Luke 13:23)
Lord Jesus did not give a straight answer. Why not? Maybe because the question came with unspoken smugness. ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved? That is, a few people like us? Or will I have to share the glory with a lot of riffraff?’ [Spanish]
Instead of patting this man on the head, the Lord evoked an image which He repeatedly used. A banquet hall, full of people relaxing, eating juicy lamb shanks and hummus with warm pitas, and drinking fine Lebanese wine. The master of the house freely provides everything. But the doors to the hall have been closed and locked.
Remember the first verse of Foreigner’s big hit “Jukebox Hero?” Standing in the rain, with his head hung low. Couldn’t get a ticket. It was a sold-out show.
Outside, they knock franticly. They want to banquet also. They want to hear the concert inside. “Lord, open the door! We have all kinds of facebook friends in common with you.”
From inside, the host says: “I don’t know where you’re from.”
“But we’re from the same place! We’re your homeboys! We went to the same high school. We ate the same local tacos and hamburgers. We went shopping at the same car dealerships. We watched the Fourth of July fireworks from the same hillsides. We just assumed that we were your good friends!”
He cuts through it all. “Depart, evildoers.”
By now the man who originally asked the question must have thought to himself, ‘Now, I consider myself above-average virtuous. But this rabbi seems, in his roundabout way, to call me an evildoer…’
Does He call us evildoers also?
Let’s focus on the details of the banquet image. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets, in the kingdom of God, with people from all four points of the compass—people who presumably share in the holiness of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets.
At Holy Mass last Sunday, we heard about one of the prophets, namely Jeremiah. They had thrown him into an empty cistern, remember? Why did they do that to the prophet? Because he tried to warn them. God will judge us not by the shallow standards of the world, but according to the unvarnished truth. We cannot fudge it with Him. He knows all. He knows our secrets. We can’t just go through the motions.
What do the people inside have in common? The ones sitting and eating the lamb shanks and drinking the wine. Abraham, his son and grandson, the prophets, and the righteous from the four corners of the earth—what they have in common is: the humility, the honesty, of real faith.
Evildoers? Only very infrequently do we act out of pure malice. Usually, people do evil because our minds fall prey to comfortable self-delusions. A broad road leads to that land, where everyone ignores inconvenient facts. But the path to reality is narrow. Because it is so humbling. The plank in my own eye dwarfs the splinter in that annoying person’s eye.
Without God, without His generosity and His mercy, I fall squarely into the evildoer category. Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, and prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, because he knew: Without God, Who has ordered me to do this, I am nothing. Jeremiah declared to the self-satisfied people of Jerusalem, “Without God, you are nothing! The Babylonians will destroy all your supposed splendor.”
Now, how do we reconcile these following sayings of Christ? On the one hand, we just heard Him say, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate, for many will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.” Strive with strength. As St. Paul put it, ‘Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.’ Getting to heaven is fricking hard. You probably won’t make it.
But on the other hand, Christ said, “Come to Me all you who labor and are weary, because My yoke is easy and my burden light.”
The narrow path to the banquet involves total trust and dependence. God reigns. God provides. When we face reality humbly, we recognize that we lie prostrate here on the earth, powerless and desperate—unless we give ourselves over completely to the triune God.
Nothing is harder for us. Because we human beings congenitally imagine ourselves perfectly masterful. We think that we are God. That’s original sin. Our false pride extends almost to the very bottom of our souls: this twisted presumption that we human beings run the universe. So nothing proves more humblingly difficult for us to achieve than: the humility of faith.
But: No one has more patience than God. He knows that, with time, even we stubborn self-deluded head-cases can bring forth the peaceful fruit of righteousness. He does not tire of training His beloved children. When we forget Him, and put ourselves in His place, He gently corrects us.
The door to the banquet stands open now. As long as we draw breath, hope for our holiness remains. He will shut the door and lock it eventually. But, may it please Him, we will have taken our seats inside by then.
We don’t even have to see the narrow path to reality in order to follow it. In fact, following the narrow path involves our acknowledging that we do not see it clearly. But we show up at Mass to humble ourselves before God’s almighty and merciful goodness. So there’s hope for us yet.