Will only a few be saved?

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

21st Sunday in ordinary times

I recall that in the early days of my hospitalization after a vehicular accident in 1974 which rendered me paralyzed from the waist down, a religious sister–friend who visited me remarked, “Father, how dearly Jesus loves you.” Having myself used the remark to others under similar circumstances, I took it without comment.

But reflecting on the remark later, many questions came to mind: “Is this the way that Jesus shows His love — by giving me great pain and taking away my mobility for the rest of my life? If God is really all good, why did He allow this to happen to me, His priest? After all, despite my weaknesses and sinfulness, I was not doing very badly in my ministry. So why this and why me?"

Others, too, at one stage of life or another, may have asked the “Why this?” and “Why me?” questions. The readings in this Sunday's Mass may help us find an answer to these questions.

While Jesus was in a village on His way to Jerusalem (Lk. 13:22–30), someone asked Him a question (a technique used by Luke to elicit an authoritative answer from Jesus): “Lord, is it true that only a few people will be saved?”

As we have seen in the gospel reading, Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, He gave three short parables to drive home a point, namely, to be saved, effort was demanded of every one. In the first parable, Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” The narrowness of the door is stressed to express the reality that it is not made for crowds. Neither is one entitled to a reserved seat on the basis of birth or baptism. Rather, confronted with the call of Jesus, each one is called to make a personal response.

The parable of the locked door refers to those who tarry in accepting Jesus. It is not enough to have eaten and drank with Him, to have heard and been taught by Him. Rather, having accepted His invitation, each one has to live by Jesus' teachings every moment of every day. To him who has not done so, the Master will say, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!”

In the third parable, Jesus said that being descended from Abraham, Jacob and all the prophets — as the Jews were — did not count; there is no such thing as national salvation. For as God tells us through Isaiah in the first reading (Isa. 66:18-21), the promised salvation is for all: “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” This is an outright rejection of all clannishness on the part of the Jews. This prophecy was fulfilled when the Father sent Jesus as “Good News" — He gave His very life for our redemption.

In fact, even at the time of Jesus' ministry, many non–descendants of Abraham and the prophets, i.e., the Gentiles, were among the first to accept Jesus as He Himself publicly acknowledged: “There are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

In effect, Jesus is telling us that salvation, even if it is for all, is not automatic; it is a task for all and not a right of a few. And this is where St. Paul's exhortation on discipline as found in the second reading (Heb. 12:5–13) comes in. Beginning with a quote from Proverbs, namely, "The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Prov. 3:11), he adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

The problems and sufferings we have all experienced, are and will be experiencing are parts of the discipline we undergo to remain faithful in responding to God's invitation. Discipline and no other is the “narrow gate” through which we enter into eternal life.

A story is told of a wealthy woman who, when she reached heaven, was shown a very plain mansion. She objected. “Well,” she was told, “that is the house you prepared for yourself.” “Whose is that fine mansion across the way?” she asked. “It belongs to your gardener,” was the answer. “How is it that he has one so much better than mine?” “The houses here are prepared from materials that are sent up,” she was told. “We do not choose them: you do that by your earthly faithfulness.”

When we discipline ourselves, then, with God's grace, we can remain faithful in our following of Jesus.

Will only a few be saved? That is not the issue. For God loves all of us and wills us to be saved. The issue is to discipline ourselves so that we be able to respond faithfully and at every moment to God's call and thus, with His help, attain salvation. This will then serve as the materials we send up to heaven for the house being built for us.