Four weeks ago we heard about God as our friend—
Luke's parable about the neighbor
pounding on the door to borrow a loaf a bread,
and the door being opened,
even though it was the middle of the night.
Today we hear a different story,
one where it's not so easy to get in
and take a place at the feast in the kin-dom of God.
This time there's a gate, and it's a narrow one.
Lots of people will try to get in, but they'll be turned away.
But other people will get in.
They'll come from the four corners of the earth,
like in that first reading from Isaiah,
nations of every language.
They will be the very people
thought to be the last ones to make it—
not the rich and the famous
but the powerless and marginalized.
Those “others” are the ones who will get in.
Jesus' explanation is simple.
Sure, people listened to him, but that's all they did.
They didn't take his teaching to heart.
They didn't change their lives.
So, even though they ate and drank with him
and hung around to hear the message,
they didn't do anything else.
They didn't put Jesus' message into practice.
When I was growing up back in the 50s,
it was common to hear
that “outside the church there is no salvation.”
I remember my 5th grade classmate Judy.
Sister told us that we couldn't talk with Judy except at school.
We couldn't go to Judy's house after school.
When I asked my mom about it,
she told me that Judy's mom was divorced and remarried
and that put her “outside the church.”
So, except in class, we couldn't have anything to do with Judy.
So we didn't.
Then, when I was in 7th grade, my maternal grandparents,
pushing 60 and pretty much unchurched,
decided to be baptized at Grace Lutheran.
My mom wanted us to go.
The priest said no.
We stayed home.
Too often we Catholics were like those people
that Jesus called “evildoers” in today's Gospel.
We knew the rules, and we followed them.
We jumped through the hoops.
We thought our baptism would get us through that narrow gate.
We said prayers with plenary indulgences attached,
just so we could get a free pass into heaven.
It was all about saving ourselves.
People who didn't follow the rules would just have to go to hell,
and it would be their fault.
Three years ago, when we had the same readings we heard today,
Pope Francis told us that
to get through that narrow door
we have to aim our whole life at following the Way of Jesus.
That means living and witnessing
in prayer, in works of charity, in promoting justice,
in doing good for others, especially the poor and the outsider.
It's a lot more than just jumping through those hoops.
It's not enough to get baptized and be labeled a Christian.
It's not enough to share a meal with Jesus.
It's not enough to just listen to what he says.
It is necessary to get to know God by following Jesus' Way.
As Elizabeth Johnson put it,
we have to become a friend of God and prophets,
and do it now.
The banquet is ready.
Every day is full of chances to walk through that narrow gate
to feast in the reign of God.
We do it in company with the Syrian refugees
we help to settle here.
We do it walking side by side with our African American friends.
We do it standing on street corners with our peace signs,
handing out those tiny tree seedlings,
voting our conscience for the common good.
We do it in the love we show our family and friends and neighbors...
We pass through that narrow gate
by the way we live our lives.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006