Sunday, 21 August 2016

Week 21 Sunday (Year C)

Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 116 (117); Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

There are some initial puzzles in today's gospel reading.

'I do not know where you come from', Jesus reports the master of the house saying to those knocking to get it. But a few lines later 'where you come from' does not seem to matter since people will come from east and west, north and south, to recline at table in the kingdom of God.

So too the door which at first is narrow, is then shut. But Jesus has already taught his disciples that to the one who knocks the door will always be opened. In John's gospel he even says 'I am the door' and that entry is through him.

'The first will be last and the last first' is a familiar challenge to our ordinary logic: what would put an end to this reversal, what is the criterion for priority in the kingdom of God?

How could anybody ever know where they are in this 'geography of salvation'?

The truth is that we do not know where we are as regards salvation. We are talking here about our own salvation since it is really the only one we need worry about. Our obligation to love others obliges us also, obviously, to hope for their salvation. This is the first reversal effected by Jesus in today's gospel: 'what about others?' is the question put to him. 'What about yourself?', is the question with which he replies. We have a 'sure hope' about our salvation, of course, but it is essential that we not presume that this is 'knowledge' about our salvation. Having a hope keeps our minds fixed always on the one in whom our hope is placed. Thinking we know means we can stop considering the one in whom our hope is placed.

What we do know is that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This is clear and there is no doubt about it. He is opening a way, travelling a path before us. He is following a course and becoming the leader who will take us to our salvation. Jesus is 'the first who will be last and the last who will be first'. Jesus enters into the knot of these reversals and unties that knot through his experience of suffering and death, of resurrection and glorification.

The greatest of all reversals, and the key to all the others, will be the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb. Now the narrow, even closed, way is opened. There are many strategies by which we continue to strive not to need salvation. Our pride leads us to think that we can still do enough or understand enough to get ourselves to where we want to be. But it is not possible without him: otherwise we will have no need of a saviour.

Our task is to strive to follow him along the narrow way which he has taken. Our task is also to trust in the promises he has made and the help of which he assures us. We are to trust that he now knows where we come from, because he has visited our place and tasted its reality. We are to hope for but not presume on our salvation, as if we could be with him without the help of his grace, as if we could enter the kingdom without the price he paid for our redemption.

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