Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 25, 2019)
Two “door stories” from the New Testament impact us. One is from the Book of Revelation: “Here I stand knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him and he with me.” That verse is supported by the familiar picture of Jesus standing outside a door without a doorknob. It must be opened from the inside . . . by us.
In the other story, the one in today’s Gospel, Jesus answers a seeker who asks, “Will only a few be saved” with “strive to enter through the narrow gate…” Here, the seeker is on the outside and Jesus is on the inside, but in both stories about entrance to life with our God, some effort is required of us who want to be on the same side of the door/gate as Jesus. Whether it is by turning the doorknob and opening it or by walking through the gate, something is required of us.
Jesus says that the master does not know where the petitioner comes from. Jesus is surely not talking about geography. He speaks of the necessary “striving” to enter. He adds that some will not be strong enough. He says that he recognizes those who are coming from the same place as he. The “same place” – again, not geographical - includes those who have taken on his mindset, his heart and strive to love everyone. This story reminds us of his saying that the sheep recognize the good shepherd’s voice; and he, theirs.
So, the question for us today is whether we are among those who strive to enter, whether we “will be in that number when the saints go marching in.” This is what the first reading from Isaiah is about. The prophet is telling the Jews that God will use every imaginable means of transportation used for both war and commerce. Chariots and carts and mules and camels sounds like mass transportation, not the saving of only “a few.”
More significantly, they will come from the farthest places the people of that time could imagine: from the west - in Spain [Tarshish] and from over in Africa [Put & Lud], from a tiny island around Greece [Javan (dzhay van)], from up the coast of the Black Sea [Tubal (tyoo b’l)]. These foreign people are going to enter the door just as the Israelites will. The point: the kingdom of god is larger than they expect and extends far beyond Israel. Socks will probably also drop at who will be there. Elsewhere, the god of surprises says that prostitutes and sinners will enter before those expecting admittance.
Entering the door will be a question of whom we know, but not in the politically correct sense. Knowing and empathizing with Jesus in his mind and heart converts our minds and hearts, who we are. Conversion will make us recognizable to him. He knows us if we are like him, living Jesus. He came among us as a servant. That was a favorite metaphor right to the end, to the last supper foot washing and his hanging on the cross as the suffering servant. He recognizes fellow servants.
Servants are expected to do things. The fact that we are servants of the lord means that much more is expected of us than the worldly, minimum daily requirement of decency. If we set our sights only on keeping our noses clean, that is not being a servant/disciple. That is trying to play it safe. Playing it safe is a futile business because Jesus never “played it safe.”
The “last” by worldly reckoning will be “first” through the door in Jesus’ view, and the firsts from a worldly perspective will find themselves at the back of the line Jesus tells us.
Each of us can rejoice in the fact that we have been invited. We have been offered the gift of faith with its expectations. We can rejoice that Jesus walks with us each step of the way. Our task is to be attentive, to listen for the lord and to respond with our continued “Yes, Lord” to our daily invitations.
This is our task: turning the knob on our side of the door; walking toward the gate by “striving” to identify with the mind and heart of our master. Striving to live Jesus is what we are called to do.