Who can be saved?

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 66:18-21

Thus says the LORD: I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations: to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the LORD in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD.

Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13

Brothers and sisters, You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.

Luke 13:22-30

Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from. And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

The message of universality is something unthinkable to the Jews in biblical time for they always believed that God’s predilection was exclusively for them. When Isaiah said that God will summon the pagan nations to Zion and will send them to far distant lands to proclaim His glory, any right-thinking Jews at that time must have felt offended in disbelief and even in resentment.

In His time, Jesus echoed the same message as Isaiah’s, that salvation is meant for everyone. But he dismissed the curiosity of “who” and addressed the more important issue of “how”. Jesus made it clear that the kingdom of God is not reserved for the best or the brightest. It is not sufficient even to be a child of Abraham or a contemporary of Jesus. Neither is the kingdom of God a wonderland that one chances upon nor an award that falls magically onto one’s lap. To be admitted, one cannot saunter casually but must struggle and elbow one’s way to get in. The means to enter is to accept and put into action Jesus’ teachings.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul described the kind of struggle that one must take for the sake of God’s kingdom, that is, the discipline from the Lord. Discipleship requires discipline, for God disciplines out of His love. Without a rigorous effort, one cannot be strong enough to succeed in getting through the narrow entrance into heaven. Discipline also helps one to learn how to handle trials in life, accepting them as a realistic part of our existence instead of ranting and raving against them.

Dear friends, let us be reminded by today’s readings that though God’s salvation is for all peoples, it requires our own conscious effort to receive it; that nothing can guarantee our place in heaven except by following the words of Jesus. “Into each life some rain must fall”* and the discipline of God will not only help us to make it through the rain but to see the rainbow afterwards.

*quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Rainy Day

Posted: August 21, 2016

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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