21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Making Our Way to Jerusalem

 The human story is filled with broken dreams. Created in the image of God, we can fashion marvelous possibilities of success, fame and pleasure, and spend much of our time and effort trying to make at least some of these dreams come true. But we will always encounter along the way people or circumstances that will shatter those dreams.

theunmercifulservant3Jesus was a person of promise. So much of what He said and did seemed to speak of peace and freedom and new creation. Then suddenly the bubble burst, the dream was nailed to a cross, and the one who had promised fullness of life was dead and buried. Many walked away disillusioned. But the Risen Lord joined them, to point out how the Scriptures clearly foretold that the Messiah must first suffer before coming into his kingdom, and to reveal himself to them in the breaking of the bread. He restored their faith and made their dream live again.

The Gospel of Luke reminds us once again that we are on the "way to Jerusalem" with Jesus. It reminds us that this spiritual journey begins by entering the "narrow gate." This means that the guiding force in our lives ought to be the loving concern that took Jesus himself to the end of his career as he gave his life for us in Jerusalem. Luke is thinking about the true purpose of this human life that God has given us.

As we make our way on this spiritual journey, we too must inevitably ask the question posed in today's gospel: "Lord, will we be among those who are saved? Are we among those who will make this journey successfully?" And Jesus answers our question with words that dispel any complacency that we may have been entertaining: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." To love and to live as He did will not be easy.

The Gospel message echoes down the centuries to console those who have come to faith in Jesus. There are always moments when the dream fades and hopes are dimmed. Evil, suffering and death continue to burst the dreams of believers, and many are tempted to walk away from the Lord and from his community of faith. But the Risen Savior continues to walk with us, to lead us back to the Scriptures for the answers, and to reveal Himself again to us in the breaking of the Bread of the Eucharist.

If we begin now to know and serve the Lord in the least of his brothers and sisters, to love Him in the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the sinner, then we will not be like those who "stand outside" and "knock at the door" when once the master of the house "has arisen and locked the door." We will need not fear to hear him say: "I do not know where you are from." (Luke 13:25.)

Everything we do - prayer, worship, sacramental life, learning, teaching, serving, healing, comforting, forgiving - all must be done in the name and power of Jesus. We must affirm by word and work that He is Lord, and that salvation, peace and justice can come only through the power of His name.

But all this is useless - unless we are constantly renewing, improving, and growing in our personal and communal faith, so that people see in us, in what we say and do, a continuation of the presence and power of Jesus.

The Good News that we celebrate week by week is, in fact, the unconditional love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Once we fully become part of the Easter/Pentecost, this spirit of the love of God touches us. We are sent to live by that love, to celebrate it and manifest it in all that we say and do, and, most importantly, to offer it, to witness to it, to share it with others.

Those of us privileged to claim membership in this community are called to minister to all of God's people - and we will keep asking ourselves, through all of our activity: "Who are we? Why are we gathering, why are we teaching, why are we meeting, why are we praying, why are we serving? Who are we?"

The people around us, those who don't belong, will also be asking: "Who are you? What are you about? Why do you do what you do?" Hopefully, everything we say and do will proclaim very loudly and clearly: "We are faithful followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We are His hands, His eyes, His heart, and His body. We bring His light and truth to our world. In His name, and by His power, we are trying to remake the face of the earth, to renew our world, to overcome evil and suffering, to restore all things in Christ."

Very often, activities in a parish can be just saving the saved, self-serving, and very parochial. We cannot let that happen. We must not let that happen. We are not given the gift of faith, the privilege of Baptism and Eucharist, for our own private good or aggrandizement. We are sent to serve. We are commissioned to be the voice and the hands and the heart of Jesus in our world.

People need to see us as a group of believers dedicated totally to hastening the coming of the kingdom of God. We must be recognized as peacemakers, as instruments of God's compassion and mercy. We must be known as people who not only pray together and offer meaningful worship to God, but also a people who work together for justice, who feed the poor, who are concerned about the homeless, who fight to save our young people from addiction to drugs and alcohol, who defend the quality of our environment, the sanctity of life and the dignity of faithfulness in marriage.

We are coming to the end of another summer and we look ahead to the beginning of another year of preaching, teaching, praying and worshipping, meeting and sharing, reaching out and serving others. Now would be a good for us to ask: Are we, in fact, influencing the quality of life around us? Do we bring the power of our faith and the power of the Gospel to our homes, our work, and our friends? Are we ready to enter the "narrow gate?"

We are not waiting for God's promise of redemption to be fulfilled. Rather, we are supposed to be living as people who have already experienced the incredible goodness of God... people who have been baptized into Jesus Christ and who share His life...

We are called to be people who recognize the difficulties of entering through the narrow gate, but who do so nonetheless.