August 20, 2016 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
“Lord will only a few be saved?”
This section contains several references to the seriousness of the proclamation of God’s reign and to the need for a sober decision to undertake the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, a journey that will end in suffering and death. Three times in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke Jesus announces his passion. After the second prediction of his Passion in Luke we find these words, “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” The third and final prediction of the Passion is found in Luke chapter 18:31-34, when Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is coming to its conclusion. The third prediction is the most detailed: “ ‘For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
Here Luke reminds us that Jesus is still on the journey to Jerusalem according to God’s plan. This reading continues the spirit and challenge of last week’s reading.
The question along the way offers him the opportunity to mention once again the difficulties involved in following him. He does not answer the question whether few will be saved, but he does say that many will not be. This passage has many harsh words, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” The Greek word for TRY is agonizesthi, it contains a sense of agony. A famous English writer, G.K. Chesterton said something similar to this saying of Jesus: “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it has been found hard and not tried.” With the disciples we risk hearing the dreadful words, “I do not know where you are from.”
There is specific mention of the sad case of those who had been under the illusion that they were following Jesus but had maintained only a loose relationship with him. They ate and drank with him and he taught in their streets but something was missing. In Matthew the disciples plead, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” But even with all this they still hear the harsh words, “Depart from me you evildoers!” These harsh words of Jesus are a challenge to us to redirect our steps towards Jerusalem with Jesus while there is still time.
An unbelieving German Philosopher wrote, “If Christians wish us to believe in their Redeemer, why don’t they look a little more redeemed.”
The patriarchs and prophets of Israel are waiting to share the banquet of the kingdom with those who are now on the way. Many of those who ate and drank with Jesus will not be there (“and your yourselves cast out”). But there will be others who never knew him while he was ministering in Israel. People will come into the kingdom from all over the world.
We are challenged to not take for granted our eating and drinking with Jesus at the Eucharist. The final words of today’s passage guard against both presumption and despair; as long as the journey is underway, some may fall away and others may still join.
What was the reason the questioner asked: “will only a few be saved?” Was he among the Pharisees that presumed they were saved? Was Jesus rebuking him? Or was this a man who society considered a sinner? Was he wanting to know if he could be saved?
What does the image of the “narrow door” mean in our lives? One man said, “the door to my daughter’s bedroom seems to become narrow at times. If I ask her to clean up her room, it’s very narrow.” Another woman said, “the peace prayer of St. Francis shows us many narrow doors, replace hatred with love, injury with pardon, doubt with true faith, despair, hope, darkness with light, sadness with joy. Not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand., in pardoning we are pardoned, in giving of ourselves that we receive.”