25Aug 25 August, 2019. 21st Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21

The returning Jews bring non-Jews to join in the worship of God

The Lord Says: “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud ?” which draw the bow ?” to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.

They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And I will also take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord.

2nd Reading: Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

As a father disciplines a child, so our God trains us

And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children: “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

People from every nation can enter in by the “narrow door”

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.

When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”


Comments from our readers

(Padraig McCarthy adds:) Jesus said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” Could it be that Jesus is saying: “If that’s what matters to you, then you’re making the door narrow, and you making it more difficult, not just for others, but for yourself too, to enter that narrow door. But that’s not what I want you to preoccupy yourself with. I want you to think instead of those whom you may have thought are beyond the scope of God’s mercy. If you’re a narrow door person, you’ll be in for a big surprise!” We need to take the reading in the context of the full gospel of Jesus. In three weeks time we’ll have Luke Chapter 15, where Jesus is criticised for associating with sinners – even eating with them! In reply we have the joy of the finding of the lost sheep, and the lost coin, and the joy of welcoming back a lost son.

(Joe O’Leary adds:) Joyce makes fun in Ulysses of a Jesuit brooding on “the number of the elect.”  It is a mark of theological decrepitude to still waste ourr brains on this question. The warnings of Jesus can be read off from our human existence. To the Pharisees he represented a scandalously broad path of salvation. The idea that he secretly knew information of otherworldly realms stems from poor Christology. Any suggestion that ” you need to make a better effort in order to be saved” tends to miss the abundance of grace, which despite the mess Augustine made of it with his predestinationism, is the essence of the Good News.

A radical way

Jesus continues walking toward Jerusalem. But his is not a pilgrim heading straight for the Temple as an act of devotion. Rather, he goes through the  villages teaching. There’s a  vision of life that he needs to share with those people: God is a welcoming Father who offers salvation to everyone. All are invited to receive mercy and  forgiveness. This message surprises many. Sinners feel new hope on hearing about God’s limitless goodness: even they can hope for salvation. Among the discontented Pharisees, they find fault with his message and are scandalised to see him welcoming tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Isn’t this opening up a road to relativism, to watering down religion and undermining morality?

Someone from the crowd shouts out a question, about how many people will be saved, in the end. Will they be few? Will they be many? Is it for everyone, or only for the perfect? Jesus doesn’t answer his question directly. The vital thing isn’t knowing the number of the saved. What’s decisive is living with a good conscience, in order to welcome salvation from that good God. Jesus urges them all: ‘Try to enter by the narrow door’. He undercuts the reaction of those who misunderstand his message as an invitation to laxity or moral indifference. Salvation isn’t a trivial gift from a permissive God. Neither is it the privilege of an elect few. It’s not enough to be children of Abraham’s DNA, in order to inherit the promise. It isn’t sufficient to have known the Messiah, to have heard and seen him. One needs also to follow him.

The phrase ‘enter by the narrow door’ can be linked to  another saying of Jesus: ‘I am the door; whoever enters through me, will be saved’ (John 10:9). Going through the narrow door is by following Jesus; learning to share his outlook; taking up his cross and trusting our very lives to the Father. Following him is a radical way and the guidelines are clear. He asks us to be faithful. His example is one of radical love for God and neighbour. His Gospel is a source of demand, but not of anxiety. Jesus Christ is the door that is always open. No one can close it, only ourselves if we close ourselves off from his influence.

The stick and the carrot

A four-year-old was sulking under the table. He had been refused a second helping of ice-cream. His mother ordered him out, but the boy wouldn’t budge. She fried coaxing, but nothing doing. When finally she promised him the ice-cream, he trotted out triumphantly and they both went out to get his reward from the fridge. The visitor was left alone with the other witness of this little domestic scene, the little boy’s grandmother. While mother and son were being reunited over a dish of ice-cream in the kitchen, the old lady said to her visitor, “She isn’t fair to that boy; he doesn’t know any better. She should have punished him.” The visitor had never heard it put that way before: Punishment as a service due to a child. It underlined an important change in attitude between the two generations.

This was reflected in a survey that was made about religious attitudes among Irish university students. That boy might have been one of those questioned in that survey. While 56% said they believed in heaven, only half that number, 28%, believed in hell. The ice-cream approach to wrongdoing won by double figures. Reward as an incentive rather than punishment as a deterrent, was easily the more acceptable answer to wrongdoers. Incidently, 58% of those interviewed believed in a clear distinction between right and wrong. They felt there should be some punishment for serious misbehaviour. This was the received wisdom, where both the stick and the carrot had a role in the formation of the people of God.

Political  corruption and bribery among highly-paid public figures should make us reflect. It is tempting to speculate that as children they picked their mother’s purse or otherwise misbehaved, secure in the belief that they would not be caught or, if caught, they would go unpunished. Our present culture of impunity among the elite gets no support from today’s 2nd Reading. The author declares that proportionate punishment is part of a wise Providence. For the Lord trains the ones he loves and tests his children. Suffering is part of our training.

Entering the narrow door

One beautiful morning in Spring, Robert Browning wrote, “The year’s at the spring/ And day’s at the morn;/ Morning’s at seven; /The hillside’s dew-pearled;/ The lark’s on the wing;/ The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in his heaven– All’s right with the world!” While the thought is beautiful, the poem suggests a faraway God, unconcerned and serene. It imagines God as “up there, somewhere,” while the world goes its separate, independent way. But the Gospel shows God in the person of Jesus Christ intervening in human affairs, concerned for people’s lives.

This kind of rationalist Deism was not the culture of his chosen people, Israel. For them God was not remote. They felt a divine presence in the events, good or evil, of everyday existence. All of history was somehow God’s doing. Even when so many of them were exiled to Babylon and their monarchy was destroyed, they continued to search for the hand of God in this tragedy. Out their shattered hopes there emerged a more spiritual vision of what God meant them to be. They saw their exile as the means used by God to bring salvation to the pagans. They saw their destiny as still glorious, but from a more spiritual perspective. As Isaiah says, all nations would come to worship the true God in Jerusalem. Good would come out of the catastrophe they endured, and this would benefit all nations as well as their own.

At the back of our minds we carry on a conversation about life,  processing our hopes and fears, making plans for the future. Relating to God means not leaving him on the fringe of all this conversation, but making him part of it, asking for guidance, expressing our gratitude. All day long God is near, if only we tune in to the inner voice.

Sometimes we seem to be only half Christians, without clear spiritual awareness. We stay on a material plane, like the people who ate and drank with Jesus and heard him preaching in their streets, but never let him change their hearts. In the end, people will come from east and west,  north and south, and take the places in God’s kingdom meant for those who heard him but did not heed. So let’s humbly ask God to help us to enter by that narrow door, to the inheritance meant for us from the start. May we not be found wanting but rather persevere to the end.

Ag gabháil an doras caol

Is cosúil go bhfuil easpa spioradáltacht le feiceál eadrainn, Críostaithe. Fanaimíd ar leath taobh maraon le lucht an tSoiscéil a bhí ag ithe agus ag ól le hÍosa agus Á cloisteál sna sráideanna ag seanmóir ach gan malairt croí. Foilsíonn Sé rábhadh go dtiocfaidh slua ó cian is ó cóngar ag lorg seilbh i Ríocht Dé sna h-ionaid atá leagtha amach don lucht tofa. Ar an intinn sin, iarraimid go humhal ar Dhia cuidiú linn gabháil don caol doras isteach chun ár n-oidhreacht a bhaint amach. Seasamíd an fód, le cunamh Dé.


Saint Louis of France

Louis IX (1214-1270) from Poissy, near Paris, was king of France from the age of twelve until his death at fifty six. He was a patron of the arts and of the church, and went on two crusades, first in his mid-30s in 1248 and then again in his mid-50s in 1270, when he died of plague in Tunis. He is the only canonised king of France.

Saint Joseph Calasanctius, priest

José de Calasanz (1557-1648) from Aragon, Spain, was sent to study law as his parents wanted him to marry. Following a grave sickness in 1582 he was ordained priest in 1583. After nine years of ministry in Spain, he moved to Rome where he worked mainly in the instruction of neglected children. In November 1597, he opened the first free public school in Europe. In 1602, he began the Piarists (Congregation of the Pious Schools,) the first religious institute dedicated essentially to teaching.

3 Responses

  1. Seamus Ahearne


    A version of Peter Pan:

    There is a young lady in the parish who usually says to me each morning ‘I will break your neck’ despite the fact that I tell her every day, that I love her. She is only 87. She is as ‘tough as old boots.’ Nothing gets her down. She often has reason to be down. She tells us that ‘I love myself.’ Her prayer each day as she wakes up is: “Today is a new day. I never had it before. I will never have it again. Thank you Jesus.” That frames her whole day and her whole life. Her joints (like most of us) groan but she argues and laughs and sings and prays. On Thursday, she will be back at school bossing everyone around. She is a treasure and a blessing.

    The Goban Saor:
    The Readings remind me of the characters on the road of life. Everyone is traipsing along towards that ‘mountain of God’ wherever it is for them. The ‘Goban Saor’ looked for someone to shorten the long road of life. The storyteller- son did. We meet so many who do just that. Life is rich and colourful in characters. The stories are told. The burdens are shared. It is quite a fad these days to ‘do the Camino.’ The journey theme is very appealing. Many love to reach Finisterre and to throw away their walking boots or whatever. What are we bringing to ‘the end of the world’? We are all on our own Camino. Some of that comes to mind in the Readings. The boreens. The cul-de-sacs. The twists and turns. The hills and potholes. The signposts and the uncertainties. But above all there is the companionship (the-with-bread in life).

    Holman Hunt:
    The Narrow Door. Holman Hunt – ‘The Light of the world.’ Jesus was knocking on the door. There is no handle outside on the door. Jesus has to be invited in. In our story (Gospel), we are doing the knocking. And the Master may not know us or let us in. A mixture of both of these images is apt. God does lots of knocking on the door of our hearts, imaginations and minds. Too often we hear nothing and don’t answer. I think Hunt has it right. The door can only be opened from within. There is a lot of overgrown vegetation around the door (Hunt’s). The door in our lives can only be opened too from within. Then It takes a big heart to realise how small we are and how little we know. God cannot be always stooping down to us if we aren’t reaching up to God. Somehow that door has to be opened.

    Toughen up:
    The reassuring words are very real “to hold up your limp arms and steady your trembling knees and smooth out the path you tread.” The curse of certainty destroys faith. The artistry of poetry displays our own inadequacy of words and grasp. Along the dirt-tracks of life, we have to be tough to stay with the obstacle -course we are on. Faith isn’t always warm and cuddly and touchy-feely. We can meet stormy weather on the journey. Our old bodies can get very weary and the joints can shout. But we keep going. The journey calls us forward into Communion; into companionship; into Community; into communication. We are needy. We need each other. We are needed by one another. Mystery. Wonder. Beauty. Fear. Insecurity. We are called together to climb the mountain of life. Quite often we don’t do the exercises to keep ‘the body’ healthy in faith. We prefer cheap faith. Only when we lift our heads and look around truly can we view the God who is there. Our Liturgy has to celebrate the reality of our lives. Otherwise it is only a facade – an empty shell. My ‘young lady’ is right. Every day is a new day. We never had it before. We will never have it again. Thank you Jesus.

    Seamus Ahearne osa

  2. Pádraig McCarthy

    I’d like to suggest a different way of reading the Gospel passage.
    Immediately before this, Luke presents the parables of the mustard seed and of the yeast in the dough the birds of the air came to nest in the branches, and the flour was leavened all through. Before that we have the story of Jesus curing a seriously disabled woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath – a woman clearly out of place in the assembly. There is no suggestion here of any narrow door.
    The first reading, from the last chapter of Isaiah, similarly has no narrow door – rather the opposite, where all nations come to Jerusalem, and some not even of the priestly families will become priests and Levites.
    Then we have the question about restriction on God’s saving love. All translations I’ve looked at treat the reply of Jesus as a statement and pronouncement: “Make sure you really do your best to enter that narrow door!”
    Now, we know the accounts of Jesus being asked a question, and him replying with a question. I don’t know whether the Greek can be translated as a question, or whether the statement can bear that inflection. But I see it like this: “If you understand God’s saving love in a restricted way, well, then, you had better be sure you put your everything into it – I tell you, many will try to enter by that narrow door and not succeed! Even those who consider themselves to be insiders may find themselves shut out. It’s quite the opposite. Be sure that God’s saving love is for all peoples, both the children of Abraham, and people from the four corners of the earth! Even those you may consider the very last people likely to find a place at the feast can be found at the table.”
    If my faithfulness involves limiting God’s saving love, I may be in danger of excluding myself from that love. God’s faithfulness in unbounded, eternal.
    “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Acclaim him, all you peoples!
    Strong is his love for us – he is faithful for ever!”

  3. Joe O'Leary

    Here is an extract from Thomas O’Loughlin, “Theology as a Resource in Christian Discipleship”, Japan Mission Journal 73 (2019):205-16. (pp. 214-16)

    One of the depressing aspects of being a Christian is that whenever one hears of narrow-minded intolerance, how often one finds that this intolerance is backed up by people who are loud in their professions of their Christian faith. I met a gentleman recently who was not only homophobic, but saw all contemporary tolerance of homosexuality as misguided and inviting divine wrath to come upon society for ‘putting up with it.’ His basis he summed up in this phrase: ‘It’s against the law of God!’ And in the conversation I could hear two other hidden assumptions: laws need a penalty, if they are to have any bite; and just as human legal systems punish ‘accomplices,’ so God must punish those who ‘connive’ with those who break his law.
    Around the same time Pope Francis was reported as ‘changing church teaching’ by saying that the death penalty was incompatible with Christian teaching. In response, a news program interviewed a US-based Catholic who said that this was all part of the slippery slope of the ‘church losing its way and going soft on sin.’ For this person, God was the final policeman and creation was a kind of police state with God watching everything and biding his time before releasing his vengeance.
    As I watched it, I wondered just where the message of love fitted with this answer: perhaps love was not what it was about, but power? Certainly, both the man I met and the other I heard would have seen divine power as more ‘real’ than divine love. But while we can argue about whether or not ‘the Bible’ is for or against homosexuality or whether or not the death penalty is needed and permitted, in both case such arguments are only addressing the presenting level of the problem. I suspect that there is a deeper problem: we think about the world around us, we have views on ‘justice,’ law and order, and the role of power in human relationships, and what we do is that we build a god in our own image, a god who ought to work as we would work ourselves (if only we had a chance).

    The Quality of Mercy

    The nineteenth century hymn writer, Frederick Faber (1814-63), proposed a very different vision which seems to come to the very heart of the issue:

    There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
    Like the wideness of the sea;
    There’s a kindness in His justice,
    Which is more than liberty.
    There is no place where earth’s sorrows
    Are more felt than up in Heaven;
    There is no place where earth’s failings
    Have such kindly judgment given.

    For the love of God is broader
    Than the measure of our mind;
    And the heart of the Eternal
    Is most wonderfully kind.
    If our love were but more simple,
    We should take Him at His word;
    And our lives would be all sunshine
    In the sweetness of our Lord.

    What a wonderful piece of theology—though, alas, it is a hymn we hardly ever sing! God’s love is broader than the measures of our human minds, and so we must be wary of ever presenting anything but mercy and gentleness lest we betray the God we claim to serve. But this level of mercifulness is not just a human trait nor a psychological or social disposition: it is the very challenge of discipleship. Such a level of forgiveness and tolerance, the level the world needs if there is to be peace, can be seen on reflection to be itself a gift, a grace, and so something for which we must be eucharistic. In formal theological jargon what those two men who wanted a god of vengeance had done was to assume that justice was a univocal concept in the human and divine spheres, and so they drew God down to their own level. What Faber did was to say that if you imagine the widest reality you can—for him it was the sea and for us is might be the light-years that separate the galaxies—then that is less than the ‘wideness’ of God’s affection for us.
    Theology is not a body of ideas, nor the ability to provide the exegesis of doctrine, nor knock-down arguments to those who challenge Christian beliefs, it is an invitation to imagine beyond our imaginations’ bounds. I have responded to those men’s visions of a god with a piece of poetry, because theology is, in the final analysis, more like poetry than prose.

    God’s infinity, Deus semper maior, is most truly recognized in God’s mercy; but appreciating the range of that mercy and seeing what response it calls forth from human beings is a most complex challenge—and skill in theology is one great facilitator in this task. Being a believer in this world—exploring my own doubts and questions, working with other Catholics and other Christians, encountering others every day of every religion and none—calls on us to think through our choices, what it means to follow Jesus’s Way of Life and to reject the Way of Death, and to bear witness to hope and love. This vocation is neither easy nor straightforward. We both follow a well mapped route which our sisters and brothers have travelled before us and we have to explore new routes and carve out new paths—and on this journey being well-skilled in theology is like having a compass as well as a map.

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