Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deacon D. McManaman
What is interesting about this gospel reading (Lk 13, 22-30) is that Jesus does not answer the person’s question: Lord, will only a few be saved? He simply said to him: “Strive to enter through the narrow door”. By refusing to answer the question, Jesus clearly implies that it’s the wrong question. Focus instead on entering through the narrow door.
The narrow door of course is Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The way to perdition, he said, is wide and broad and many take it. And this is very interesting terminology, because today, in our culture, “narrow” is not a good word, while “broad and open” are regarded as good. And of course, Jesus is not referring to narrow mindedness, nor is he saying that open mindedness is a bad thing. Open mindedness is a virtue and closed mindedness is a vice. What he said is that the way to eternal life is through a narrow door, and so it is a way that has a definite trajectory. However, a way that is wide and broad is open to many different directions, even contradictory paths. That’s a sure way of getting lost. If you want to know the way to Florida and someone tells you the highways are open, there are many paths, take whatever way you feel like, the person will likely not make it to Florida–he might end up in Texas or Nova Scotia. A narrow way is a determinate way; good directions will include what highway to take and what exits to avoid.
But postmodern culture today frowns on anything that suggests that there really is a right way, a definite way to choose the good, and a definite course of action that will lead to our own destruction. The world says the way is broad and open, and you can take whatever way you choose, because they are all right ways. There was even a Supreme Court Case in the U.S, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which said that one has the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. That, of course, is pure nihilism (that philosophical school of thought which holds that reality, human existence, etc., has no intrinsic meaning, only the meaning we give it). It is a ruling that completely undermines the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, insofar as they were written within the framework of a definite philosophical anthropology. If anyone thinks about it long enough, those lines really amount to anarchy.
But Christ says very clearly, strive to enter the narrow door. Many will try but will not be able to do so; for they’d rather do what they want to do, not what God wants.
The other point I’d like to focus on is the following: “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets’. But the Lord will say, “I do not know where you come from”.
“Where you come from” is your origin, or your home. In Hebrew, the word for ‘family’ (be’tab) is ‘My father’s house’. In other words, Jesus will look at them and say: I don’t know where your home is; it is clearly not here with me. Your home is somewhere else. Your heart is somewhere else. But what is particularly noteworthy is that in the parallel gospel in Matthew it says: “Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ And the Lord will reply: I never knew you. In other words, you can be religious, come to Church regularly, teach in the name of Jesus, work miracles in his name, and still he may not know where you come from. In Hebrew, knowledge means union, it means experience. ”I never knew you” means I have never experienced you, never experienced intimate union with you. In the book of Revelation, Christ says: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.” For the Jews, to dine with a person is to enter into communion with that person; for those at table share in the same food that is before them, which is a source of life, and so they share a common life. Jesus says he will enter if you open the door, referring of course to the door of the heart. But Jesus is the light who has entered into the darkness, and the light chases the darkness, not the other way around. It’s one thing to have Jesus in the head, but it is quite another thing to allow the light to enter into the heart, because the light chases the darkness, and some people are comfortable in the dark. I’m referring particularly to the darkness of anger, envy, pride, bitterness, hypercriticism, etc, and these vices, for many religious people, are like an old leather coat that is very comfortable to wear and so they won’t part with it. And you have to wonder how it is that such people don’t see the irony, the contradiction, the hypocrisy. There are all sorts of possible explanations for this, but one in particular has always stood out to me over the years: many of them are very conservative, they are “orthodox”. For them, Catholicism is about “being right”, that is, “having the right answers”. It’s all in the head. And so they can hide behind the cloak of their orthodoxy, which allows them to feel righteous, which is why they are very often self-righteous, very dogmatic; religious know it alls.
Catholicism is first and foremost the good news of salvation, that the light has come into the world, and we can invite him into the depths of our own hearts if we are tired of the darkness, and he will bring light and life to our lives. And then we will know God in a way that no one else does, a knowledge that arises from that unique relationship that He offers us, if we open ourselves to him and allow him to drive out our darkness so as to breathe fresh air and live in light.