26 October 2010

IN OR OUT?

Wednesday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time
Lk 13:22-30

The Gospel today opens with “Through towns and villages Jesus went teaching, making His way to Jerusalem.” Immediately, Luke zeroes in on two important aspects about Jesus as He did His public ministry.

First, Jesus was a teacher. However, unlike the common meaning of the word “teacher” today, He was not attached to any school or college, had no regular class schedule, and did not have a fixed roster of students. Jesus, Palestine’s most popular itinerant teacher, stopped at any field or hilltop or sat in a boat from where He taught whoever wished to listen. And the course He taught was more important than what any university at all times ever offered. His course description read: “Salvation: How to Enter Heaven”.

Second, even as He taught, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Jesus did not travel aimlessly. He was making a specific journey to a specific place for a specific purpose. And He was well aware of what awaited Him in Jerusalem: death on a cross and resurrection after three days. Obviously, Jesus was not contented with teaching us how to get to heaven. He knew that He Himself had to open the gate for us. The key that opened for us the gate to heaves was His obedience to the Father, the kind of obedience that persisted even unto death – death on a cross.

Like any good teacher, Jesus spent much of His time answering questions. As all teachers who deserve the title, Jesus knew that the most interesting moment in teaching was when students fired questions from the floor. Today, Jesus fielded a question that certainly kept His students, who were serious about His course of salvation, at the edge of their seats: Will there be only a few saved? In the final tally, will hell be more jam-packed than heaven? Are we in or are we out?
Those who were listening to Jesus were expecting an answer that was radically different from what their religious leaders usually gave. Many scribes and scholars of the Mosaic Law taught that not only Gentiles but even pure-blooded Israelites would not enter the kingdom of God. Salvation, according to these religious leaders, came only from strict observance of the 248 positive prescriptions and 365 negative prohibitions that evolved from the Ten Commandments. These 613 prescriptive and prohibitive rules were burdensome for most of the Jews. If the scribes and the scholars of the law were right, then only a few would be saved. But having heard Jesus many times in disagreement with their religious leaders, the Jews were hoping for a lenient answer from Jesus. After all, Jesus appeared to be spending much of His energy toppling the edifice of scribal law. But the Jews were disappointed. Jesus did condemn the rules of the scribal law as inhumane and, thus, not from God, but He had not intention of building a cream-puff religion as its substitute.

Jesus answered with a direct challenge: “Try to enter by the narrow door.” Clearly, Jesus did not answer the question regarding final demography in the after-life. In His view, the question missed the point because what was truly important – and still is until today – was not how many would enter heaven but whether they – His listeners – and us will make it there ourselves. Instead of inquiring as to how many will be saved, we should rather ask our selves: Are we in or are we out? And without any blinking of the eye, Jesus warned us already that it will not be easy to be in after all, for “many will try to enter and will not succeed”.

If we think that being baptized and going to church on Sunday already assure us of a ticket to heaven, think again. After challenging and warning us, Jesus painted for us a nightmare scene: a terrified, hysterical crowd pounding in terror at the door of heaven, begging admittance. And with icy words, Jesus greeted this frightened crowd, “I do not know where you come from.” Then the people in the crowd, with faces lined with dreadfulness, managed yet to explain: “But, Lord, don’t You know us? We once ate and drank with You. You even taught in our streets.” Then the words of Jesus sent chilling spells down their spines, “Away from me, all you wicked people!”

In our present age, who are these door-bangers? They are not the common delinquents of society. They are not the drug-pushers, gunslingers, and child-molesters whom the world calls “evildoers”. Rather, it appears that they are good people, respectable citizens, and even devout churchgoers. Certainly, in the end, heaven will surprise us all because, as Jesus Himself said, “there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.”

Learn from the example of Jesus who, after all, has the final word on who is in and who is out in the kingdom whose gates He Himself opened by His own death and resurrection. Because He is THE Teacher, let us listen to and obey Him. And like Him, may we never go through aimlessly. May we live our life with a definite purpose worthy of the Father. This is what Jesus did, this, too, should we do.

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