Here is my homily from this past Sunday. Sorry it’s taken me a few days to put it up: after my last Mass I ran off to the lake with some Priest friends for a couple of days.
Psalm 117: 1, 2 R/. Go into the world and proclaim the good news.
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Many, I tell you, will try to enter [the narrow door] and will not be able (Lk 13:24). That doesn’t sound like a very hope-filled message, now does it? Many will try, but fail. But don’t worry: appearances can be deceiving! Actually, that’s sort what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel: appearances can be deceiving.
Jesus is on His final journey to Jerusalem, where He’ll be crucified. Along the way, He’s healing, teaching, and telling many parables about the Kingdom and about discipleship, increasing the strength and tone of His message the closer He gets. It’s in this context that someone asks: Lord, will only a few be saved? (Lk 13:23) What a loaded question!
But instead of answering how few will be saved, Jesus tells us who won’t be saved. (Don’t worry, He doesn’t give names…) But He does give us something rather profound, and which is, at second glance, rather quite hopeful. Three key phrases in this parable of the Narrow Door help us to see that.
First, there is but one door, and it’s indeed narrow. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, I am the door for the sheep (Jn 10:7), and No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6). Salvation is only available through Jesus Christ; only He atoned for our sins and opened for us the way into heaven: He is the narrow door. We must seek Him out, then.
Second, those who are turned away are rejected because they’re not recognised: I do not know where you come from, says Jesus (Lk 13:25, 27). Even though they call Him Lord, and insist they ate and drank with Him and listened to His teachings, Jesus doesn’t know them because they don’t know Him. This is where Jesus gets firm with His disciples: ‘It’s insufficient to simply go through the motions and say you’re a disciple; if you don’t know me, I won’t know you.’ Jesus won’t recognise those who knock because He knows their works and their thoughts (Is 66:18); He knows that, though they ate and drank with Him, their hearts were not with Him.
This was a wake-up call for the disciples, and it’s meant to be one for us today, too. Jesus is challenging us to examine our relationship with Him. Where do we really stand? Do we really know Jesus? Do we really stand with Him? Are we living according to His teachings? Or are we just faking it? Now Jesus isn’t accusing anyone; He’s calling us to conversion, to a deeper relationship with Him.
Third, those refused entry are refused because they’re too late; the door’s already been closed. We don’t have an eternity for this conversion; we have but a limited time, and no one but the Father knows when that hour is coming (cf. Mt 24:36; Mk 13:32). Our duty, then as serious Christians, is to not delay opening our hearts to God, and to strive everyday to imitate Christ. We have to work with God’s grace.
You’re not going to lose weight while sitting on the couch eating chips and watching TV. That’s not going to do it! Want to lose weight? Change your diet and workout. You can’t get fit without that!
It’s the same for us when it comes to faith. We can’t expect to become saints if we’re not actively working toward that goal. Well, it’s not so much our work as it is His grace, but we must seek Jesus out, always!, treating prayer, Scripture and works of charity as our diet and exercise for this holiness training.
You see, that’s because Jesus doesn’t want to reject anyone. A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus telling us that it’s the Father’s good pleasure to give [us] the kingdom (Lk 12:32). Jesus wants each of us to be in union with Him: that we may be one with Him, as He is with the Father (cf. Jn 17:20-21). And this oneness with God, this is what it means to be in holy. To be in Heaven is to be in complete union with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But we’re not there yet, and we don’t get there by magic or by accident! That’s why we need conversion; we need to be evermore conformed to Christ in this life, so that we might be united to Him in the next. But conversion can only happen if we’re honest with ourselves about our relationship with God. And we can only grow if we open our hearts to God’s grace and work at our relationship with Him, that’s why Jesus begins His answer by encouraging us to strive to enter through the narrow door (Lk 13:24). Jesus, too, wants us to be serious about our relationship with Him. It’s a matter of life and death!, and Jesus wants us to choose life (Dt 30:19), that’s why He’s given us the Church and the Sacraments to help us along the way: the Church to help us understand how to follow Jesus, and the Sacraments to give us the grace and strength to live as true disciples.
And so, you see, today’s Gospel isn’t a message of condemnation and gloom, but one of hope and encouragement. We’re called to be Christians not merely in appearance, but in fact; in the depths of the heart and of the mind; in our whole being. The externals of the faith are merely outward expressions of an interior faith that can’t be contained, but seeks to spill out. Practicing the faith is meaningless if our hearts aren’t with Christ.
But if we realise that our hearts aren’t all there, we mustn’t fear nor give up: we simply need to turn to the Lord while it’s not too late, and ask for His help; for though the door is narrow, His grace and mercy are very wide. Amen.