Homily given by Father Stephen Skelly on Aug. 23, 1998 (21st Sunday of Ordinary Time) For Gospel reading of Luke 13: 22-30. - St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Rio Rancho New Mexico.
The honest fact is that this Gospel reading is not a very popular one in todays subjective "do your own thing" secular world of peaches and cream because it reminds all of us of our ultimate destiny as spiritual beings.
You could say that its message is rated "R". An "R" for a reality check, and "R" calling for repentance and an "R" for responsibility of ones life actions at the feet of God.
Only in Grace and hope can we meditate on todays Gospel without total fear and anxiety, because, my Brothers and Sisters, Jesus is telling us all about what will happen the moment we close our eyes and release our last breath. The moment of Mercy for some and the moment of Judgment for others.
Justice and Responsibility -
"Lord, will those who are saved be few?---Many I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
While the questioner in todays Gospel who asked how many would be saved did not get a direct answer from Christ, nevertheless it was made very clear to him and to all of us that each ones salvation is in his or her own hands. All those who accept Christ, and his teachings, will enter the kingdom of God. On the other hand, those who are excluded from that eternal kingdom will have only themselves to blame. God invites all people to heaven. Go out and invite to the marriage feast as many as you can find (Mt. 22:9). He gives all the help necessary to every person, but, because people have a free will which God cannot force, some abuse that freedom and choose wrongly. "The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy."
Christ mentions the narrow door through which we must enter into Gods kingdom. This means that we must exercise self-restraint in our lives which we do when we respect and keep Gods commandments: As we read in Matthew,
"Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?...If you would enter eternal life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:16-17) Now just what is this call to judgment? It is the appointed close of that period in time allotted to each of us by God where he allows us time for the free exercise of the will, for good or bad, each of us will step out from behind the wings of the world, and there, on the other side, across the threshold of death, be ushered into fiery collision with ultimate reality itself in whose blazing presence everlasting judgment falls on every person who has ever lived. At this time it will be too late to shout "Lord, open for us." We should have sought his mercy and his forgiveness during our earthly life, and he would have granted it.
Neither will it avail us to say that we knew Jesus in life, "We ate and drank in your presence." Acquaintance with Christ is not enough. We should have loved him and became his real friends, which we could only do by being loyal followers of his. The verse, "he taught in our streets" will only prove our guilt. We could have learned his doctrine; we could have become his disciples, be we would not. The pagan who never heard of Christ will not be condemned for not following his teaching, but the Christian who did hear his doctrine and refused to carry it out, will be told "I do not know you, depart from me sinner."
As descent from Abraham was not a claim for special consideration on the part of the Jews, neither will any other circumstances of nationality, birth, or earthly privilege help us on the day of judgment. "Behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last." Each person will stand or fall based on the life style they chose to live in their life. If one had rejected God during their life, then most likely at death, their disposition will also be one of rejection. The only difference is that in this life we have the ability to change our disposition whereas our disposition at death will be our disposition for all eternity. Rejection of God for all eternity and knowing what we will be missing is the definition of hell. "When you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves will be thrust out to (eternally) weep and gnash your teeth." This is the definition of Hell. Thus, nothing and nobody else can change the just judgment of God when that moment arrives for each one of us.
The thought of our moment of judgment is a staggering one even for the holiest of us. Things and actions that do not trouble us much now, will appear in a different light then. The prayers we omitted or said carelessly; the masses we missed on flimsy excuses; the little injustices caused to a loved one, a neighbor, or a customer; the dishonesty practiced by a worker against his employer; the bad language so freely used; the scandal about our neighbor which is so freely spread and looked upon by some as a source of entertainment; the money wasted on alcohol, gambling, and drugs when our children needed nourishment and clothing; the sins of impurity of which we thought very lightly- these, and many other such faults of which we excuse ourselves so easily now, will not be a source of joy or consolation for us on that final day if we arrive at Gods justice seat still burdened with them. Todays society should take heed of St. Pauls warning to the Corinthians, "Do you not know that the [immoral and the] unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" (1 Cor. 6:9-10)
We are dealing with Gods mercy while alive. He will forgive any sin and any number of sins if we a) truly repent, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and b) we resolve to correct these faults. To do this is the only one guarantee that even God himself can give us of a successful judgment. Every person who lives in Gods grace will die in Gods grace and be numbered among the saved. Those who live habitually in sin, and purposely refuse the amend their lives will die in their sinful state, and thus exclude themselves from eternal salvation. There are three points needed to be made clear: 1) Death bed conversions are fairly rare, but always remember that the Lord knows the secrets of our hearts more than we do; 2) Yes, God is the fullness of Love, Mercy, and, Justice but, hell does exist, Jesus speaks of it five times in Matthews Gospel alone (MT. 5:30;11:23,28;25:41-43,45); and 3) God loves us so much that he wants all of us to be in heaven with him "All are invited to the wedding feast" - he condemns no one, we condemn ourselves.
Let us all meditate or reflect on the following statement: "I have a free will. I can chose to pass the final examination or to fail it. The whole of my eternity, the unending life after death, depends on my choice now. If I chose to follow Christ and live accordingly to his laws during the few years I have on this earth, I shall pass and be among the saved. If I ignore Christ and his laws now, he will not know me on the day of judgment. I shall be among the lost. God forbid that I should chose the latter course."
The God of Jesus Christ is a God of mercy and love and forgiveness, but he is also the God of Justice and Judgment. The very same authority that is virtually our only authority for believing that "God is love" also clearly teaches that God is just, and that those who do not meet him clothed in the gift of salvation and grace must meet him naked, without a wedding garment. For all must meet him, since he is truth, and truth is universal and unavoidable.
Mercy is Truth clothed; Judgment is Truth naked.