21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Aug 21, 2022
A large, well-established Canadian Lumber Company advertised that they were looking for a new Lumberjack. The very next day, a skinny little man shows up at the company with his axe and knocks on the head lumberjack’s door.
The head lumberjack took one look at the man and tells him to leave.
“Just give me a chance to show you what I can do,” said the small, skinny man.
“Okay, see that giant tree over there? Take your axe and go cut it down.”
The small, skinny man headed to the tree, and within five minutes, he was back, knocking on the head lumberjack’s door.
“I cut the tree down,” said the man. And sure enough, the head lumberjack couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Where did you get the skills to chop down trees like that?” he asked.
“In the Sahara Forest,” replied the small skinny man.
“You mean the Sahara Desert,” corrected the head lumberjack.
“Sure, that’s what they call it now.”
That head lumberjack never would have expected that that small, skinny man, who was looking for a job, was capable of levelling such a big tree, had he not given him the opportunity to demonstrate his skills. Well, that’s the sort of thing that Jesus is advocating in our gospel for this weekend as well, when he says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you will try to enter and will not be able.” (Lk 13: 24) The striving, to which Jesus is referring, is meant to convey that getting to Heaven isn’t just a one time event, where we profess with our lips that Christ is our Savior and that’s all we need to do. Yes, we must accept, in faith, that Jesus Christ is our Lord and that he saved us by shedding his Most Precious Blood on the Cross, but there’s more to it than that.
Once we have faith in Christ, we need to live it out and make it genuine, by finding opportunities throughout the day, to grow closer to God, to lead others to Christ, and to witness to the values inherent in the Kingdom of God, by the way we live our lives. Words aren’t enough. Indeed, Jesus says some will stand outside the door and knock, saying, “ ‘Lord, open to us.’ Then in reply, he will say to (them), ‘I do not know where you come from; (Lk 13: 25) go away from me all you evildoers.’ ” (Lk 13: 27b)
That’s where the challenge or striving comes in. Our lives are meant to be a continual affirmation of our faith. And that’s not always easy. It’s not always easy to be persons of love, persons of mercy and forgiveness, persons of kindness and compassion, persons of joy, persons of tender-heartedness, persons of hope! It’s not always easy, because our world is infested by sin. And that sin affects, not only our own attitudes, dispositions and priorities, at times, but it also affects those who still have not come to faith in Christ, those of other faith traditions, and those who reject faith entirely. Looking at ourselves, we have to admit that sometimes, we may be full of hatred toward persons who don’t see the world as we see it, or who don’t have the same political views as ourselves. Sometimes, we may think that people who have harmed others, should be treated similarly by law enforcement. Sometimes, we may prefer obstinate arrogance to forgiving someone who’s offended us. At other times, we may be rude and unwilling to see the difficulties another has had to endure from their vantage point. At still other times, we may prefer the bad news or the fake news to God’s good news and universal truths. Sometimes, we may prefer doom and gloom and a pessimistic worldview, to one that sees the ever-persistent light of hope, defiantly shining out in the darkness.
Our striving also faces the temptation, of relying on our past laurels or achievements, so that we can just coast through the rest of life.
I’ve heard this rationale from some who’ve said that they went to church so much as children that they don’t have to go any longer as adults because those childhood masses are making up for today. We hear the same sort of mentality from people who retire and decide to live a quiet life for themselves, rather than using some of the extra time they have, to volunteer for some worthy cause or group that they didn’t have time for, while they were working. In other instances, we may get disheartened by the enormity of the social problems that we see in the world and so, convince ourselves that whatever we may be able to contribute, would be insignificant in comparison to the gravity of the problems, and so, we don’t bother at all. Jesus warns us, in the last part of today’s gospel, to avoid presuming that we can coast our way into the Kingdom, when he says, “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.” (Lk 13:28)
Our striving for the Kingdom of Heaven also means that we need to keep our complaining at bay. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3: 23) All includes you and me. That’s why all of us need a Savior. Yet, it’s a lot easier to gossip about others, than it is to spend time praying for them. It’s a lot easier to lie to someone than to tell them the truth. It’s a lot easier to blame others for the problems we face, than to acknowledge our own complicity. Oftentimes, we can get so easily trapped into thinking that the problems we encounter are someone else’s doing, and that someone else’s opinion of us is more important than God’s, that we can neglect to take ownership of our own role in the solution, and to eagerly strive to give God all the honor, glory and praise for the ways we bring God’s vision of the Kingdom closer to full realization.
Connected to that, is the need to be freed of all forms of judgmentalism as we strive for the Kingdom of Heaven. Such judgmentalism needs to be replaced with an openness and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who is always about transformation and new beginnings, always about movement toward God and away from anything that would harden our hearts and make us an island unto ourselves. Faith, by its very nature, is other-seeking. In order for us to have faith, someone in our past must have shared it with us! Faith is all about reaching out to others to share with them what we’ve found in Christ. It’s not just the purview of priests. It’s for every member of the baptized community of believers to embrace. That’s what evangelization is all about.
So we must ask ourselves, from time to time, what are we welcoming others to? It’s an important question to ask, because it’s a shame to put in all this work at evangelizing, only to have those who come to church for the first time, feel isolated, alone or under scrutiny. Are we welcoming others to an all-embracing community of faith that meets each person where they’re at, or are we welcoming them to a community individually-minded people, each with their own agenda and concerned only about their own needs? Are we respectful in our language and our mannerisms or do we speak harshly to others? Are we welcoming others to a community that looks beyond a person’s sins and to a Holy Redeemer, or are we welcoming them to a community who judges and condemns anyone not like us, a community low on mercy and forgiveness, but high on keeping score? Are we welcoming others to join us in ministry, or are we welcoming them to a community that lets the same people do the same things forever, with no room for anyone new?
Jesus wants us all to strive to enter through the narrow door by living our faith 24/7, by immersing ourselves in the grace of God, by humbly acknowledging our own sinfulness and by being a merciful, welcoming presence to all who enter this holy place. By so doing, we’ll make Jesus’ vision, a reality, and see “people come from east and west, from north and south, to eat in the Kingdom of God.
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