If only I knew

Tom Bartolomeo
21st Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Isaiah 66, 18-21; Psalm 117;
Hebrews 12: 5-7; 11-13; Luke 13: 22-30
Reproduced with Permission

If any part of the Gospel seems inexplicable or harsh - and I do not think so - it would be the stark picture Jesus drew in the Gospel According to Luke, "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already burning" and Jesus' warning, "strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." (cf Luke 12, 49 ff). Jesus' response in the gospel was elicited when someone in the crowd had asked, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" Jesus' reply followed his encounter with some hypocrites at the time, the proud Pharisee, for example, who invited Jesus to dinner and criticized the intrusive woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears of repentance. (Luke 7, 37-50). Later, Jesus would explain, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21).

Who then are those who "will attempt to enter [heaven] but will not be strong enough?" Think that they can just glide through an automatic door without any effort. They are those who would avoid or "disdain the discipline of the Lord", we are told, in the Letter to the Hebrews. We should realize that the words "discipline" and "disciple" share the same meaning, that strength comes from endurance not avoidance. Who has not had trials and tribulations, illness, disappointment, insult and any unfair treatment, and who has not complained? We can not include Jesus with those who complain, Jesus who accepted his Father's discipline for our encouragement in becoming real disciples of Jesus Christ.

The final sentence of the "Our Father" we pray, "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" - God answers with the discipline he metes out to strengthen us against temptation. The intelligent Catholic would seek out these trials as did Jesus when he submitted himself to forty days of temptation by Satan at the beginning of his public ministry. That was not by chance. Jesus submitted to temptation for our example. He was preparing his body for the torment he would endure on Good Friday while his untested disciples ran off frightened by the prospects of their arrest and punishment. They had not yet endured any discipline on their own. Keep in mind, they were mostly called "the Twelve" before their acts of bravery in the Acts of the Apostles when they truly became Apostles and were continuously called Apostles thereafter. When they were first arrested by the rulers of the Temple and escaped with the aid of an angel they were re-arrested and reminded by their enemies, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name [Jesus], yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." And Peter replied, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. . . . When they [the council of rulers] heard this they were enraged and wanted to kill them", but they reluctantly desisted fearing the people's reaction. (Acts 5, 28 ff). We know all the Apostles died as martyrs except John. Shortly following Peter's and the other Apostles' release the disciple, Stephen, was seized and stoned to death for his bravery in face of an angry mob, the first martyr to die. The danger was real.

Finally, consider how little we learn from success in any matter which often can endanger our standing with God and which often strengthens our character faults, pride, greed and the other seven deadly sins. Failure, however, often engenders humility, meekness and a host of other virtues. Gilbert Chesterton said it best, "Nothing succeeds like failure", which requires introspection, a weighing of purposes, motives and resources. Success does not. Recognizing our limitations leads to more prudence in setting our goals without over-reaching or under-achieving. Jesus calls us to face death daily and all its minions, pain and disappointment, "unless you take up your cross and follow me you can not be my disciple," Jesus both taught and modeled. (Mark 8, 34). When we bear our crosses - and if we don't have any, we should find one - we may more readily face our end and not be surprised on that last day. It also explains Jesus admonition, "unless you hate your life in this world you will not save it" for life eternal. (John 12, 29).