Lectio Divina: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
The narrow door and the call of the gentiles
a) Opening prayer:
We come before You, Father, and because we do not know how to talk to You, to help us we use the words Your Son Jesus pronounced on our behalf. Help us to listen to the upsetting message of this word: “Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed”. This is a word You repeat to everyone who listens to Your Son’s Gospel. Help us to understand it, so that we may be able to read Your scripture and savor it, feel it burn like a fire in us. We implore You, Father, send us Your Spirit. And you Mary, mother of contemplation, who have kept the words and events of Jesus in your heart for a long time, grant us to contemplate the Word, to listen to it and allow it to penetrate our hearts.
b) Reading of the Gospel:
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" He answered them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open the door for us.' He will say to you in reply, 'I do not know where you are from. And you will say, 'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.' Then he will say to you, 'I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!' And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
c) A few moments of prayerful silence:
To listen devoutly to the voice of God, we need silence and interior calm. We need to create in our hearts “a quiet corner where we can make contact with God” (Edith Stein) and be able to establish deep communication between ourselves and the Word. If we do not stand before God in silence, in silence and gazing on His face, we will form words but we will be saying nothing.
a) A key to the reading:
This Sunday’s passage is found in the second part of Luke’s Gospel where Jerusalem, the object of Jesus’ existential and theological journey, is mentioned several times, of which three are part of the post-Paschal liturgical way: Lk 9:51 (13th Sunday of ordinary time “C”), Lk 13:22-30 (21st Sunday of ordinary time “C”) and Lk 17:11 (28th Sunday of ordinary time “C”). The proclamation of a journey, placed at the beginning of the Gospel text, helps the readers to remember that they are also journeying towards Jerusalem with Jesus. The journey towards the holy city is the thread that runs through the whole of the second part of the Gospel (Lk 9:51-19:46) and most of what is said is introduced by verbs of movement presenting Jesus and his disciples as pilgrims or itinerants. Jesus’ journey towards the holy city is not strictly speaking, a geographical journey, but corresponds to a theological and spiritual journey. This kind of journey also involves the disciple and the reader of the Gospel: going on “the journey” of Jesus makes us like itinerants whose mandate is to preach the Gospel.
On this journey Jesus faces conflicts with the Jewish world, and in Lk 13:10-30 includes three episodes: 13:10-17 (the healing of the crippled woman), 18-21 (the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast) and in 22-30 (the discourse on the narrow door). This last is the text the liturgy of the Word presents to us this Sunday. It begins with the journey as a background to Jesus’ words as He went “through towns and villages…teaching” (v.22). It is characteristic of Luke to note Jesus’ ministry as a journey.
Now, at one stage on this journey towards Jerusalem, someone puts a question to Jesus: how many will be saved? Jesus’ reply does not mention any number of those who will be saved, but contains an exhortation and a warning, a “try”, which points to an attitude to be assumed: “to enter by the narrow door”. This image recalls in the mind of the disciples, and in Luke’s community, for the need to address their preoccupation with the burdensome commitment that the journey of faith demands. Immediately after this, Jesus introduces the true and proper teaching with a parable that is associated with the image of the narrow door, the parable of the master of the house who, after having closed the door of the house, will not allow anyone in (v.25). This detail brings to mind the end of the parable of the ten virgins in Mt 25:10-12. These examples tell us that there is an intermediate time when we must commit ourselves to receive salvation before the door is closed definitively and irreversibly.
Partaking in the founding moments in the life of the community, like at the supper of the Lord (“we have eaten and drunk in Your presence”) and the proclamation of the Word (“You have taught in our squares”), if not backed up by a life commitment, cannot avoid the danger of condemnation. Luke’s Gospel likes to present Jesus as taking part at the table of those who invite Him, but not all who sit at the table with Him have an automatic right to the definitive salvation that He proclaimed through the image of a banquet. Thus, also, having heard His teaching does not automatically guarantee salvation. In fact, in Luke, listening to Jesus’ word is an indispensable condition for discipleship, but it is not enough. Disciples need to make the commitment to follow the master, keeping His teaching and bearing fruit through perseverance (Lk 8:15).
Those who have not been able to enter by the narrow door before it is closed are called “doers of iniquity”: they are those who did not commit themselves to putting God’s plan into practice. Their future situation is presented figuratively with an expression that tells of the irreversibility of their not being saved: “Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth” (v.28).
Interesting is the reference to the great biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and to all the prophets: they will enter and be part of the kingdom of God. If to Jesus’ contemporaries this affirmation could seem to indicate that salvation was the privilege of the Jews, for Christians of Luke’s community it constituted a warning not to think of salvation as an automatic consequence. The kingdom that Jesus proclaims becomes the place where the disciples meet and come from the “east and west, from north and south” (v.29). Jesus’ discourse introduces a dynamic of salvation that involves the whole of humanity and is addressed especially to the poor and sick (Lk 14:15-24). Luke, more than the other Evangelists, is sensitive to the proclamation of a universal salvation and presents Jesus as offering the promise of salvation no longer just to Israel, but to all peoples. The final affirmation comes as a sign of this changed condition of salvation: “there are those who now are last who will be first, and those now first who will be last” (v.30). This affirmation shows how God upsets and turns upside down the mechanisms of human logic: no one must trust in a position attained, but everyone is invited to constantly tune into the Gospel’s wavelength.
b) Some questions:
i) The narrow door of salvation reminds us of the necessity of all to be committed to receiving this gift. The image does not say that God wishes to make it difficult to obtain salvation, but it emphasizes the co-responsibility of men and women, the reality of the effort involved in this commitment to obtain salvation. According to Cyprian, going through the narrow door means a transformation: “Who does not wish to be transformed as soon as possible into the image of Christ?”. The image of the narrow door is a symbol of the work of transformation to which the believer is committed through a slow and progressive effort on him/herself in order to refine him/herself and be molded by the Gospel. More correctly, the one who does not commit him/herself to any kind of reciprocal relationship with God, with others and with the world, risks perdition. Often the temptation is to propose other doors, seemingly easier and more useful, like those of selfishness, avoiding God’s friendship and relationships with others. Are you committed to build relationships or are you intent on being selfish? Are you convinced that salvation is offered you through the relational dimension of communion with God and others?
ii) Salvation is possible for all. Everyone may attain it, but such a gift from Jesus requires an effective and personal response from us. In Jesus’ teaching we do not find the use of any threat to render people aware regarding salvation, but only an invitation to be fully aware of the extraordinary and irreversible opportunity of the gift of mercy and life before God and in dialogue with Him. Towards what and towards whom is your life pointing? How do you use your freedom? Are you able to welcome God’s invitation to be co-responsible for your salvation or have you surrendered to waste and perdition?
iii) If we consider the question of that person who asked Jesus, “Sir, will there be only few saved?”, no one can consider him/herself privileged. Salvation belongs to all and all are called. The door to salvation may be closed for those who expect to enter with the unwieldy baggage of personal inconsistencies. Do you feel the desire to enter and be part of that “infinite throng from east and west who will sit at the table of the kingdom of God”? And if you see yourself as last (small, simple, sinner, bent by suffering…) if you live with love and hope, do not despair. Jesus said that the last will be first.
a) Psalm 117, 1-2
Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol Him, all peoples!
For great is His steadfast love toward us;
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.
Praise the Lord!
b) Closing prayer:
Lord, grant that we may feel the life of Your Word we have heard; break, we beseech You, the knots of our uncertainty, our quibbles, our “ifs” and “buts” that hold us back from entering into salvation through the narrow door. Grant that we may welcome without fear, without too many doubts, the Word of God that invites us to commit ourselves and work hard at our life of faith. Lord, grant that through the Word we have heard this Sunday, the day of the Lord, we may be freed from false security concerning our salvation and may Your Word bring us joy, strengthen, purify and save us. And you, Mary, model of those who listen and of silence, help to be alive and authentic, to understand that, in virtue of the Word, whatever is difficult becomes easy, whatever is obscure becomes light.
Contemplation is the peak of any biblical reading after we have meditated and prayed. To contemplate is to enter, through listening to the Word, into a faith and love relationship with God who is life and truth and who in Christ has revealed His face to us. The Word of God unveils that hidden face in every page of sacred scripture. Suffice it to look in admiration, be open to the light, allow it to penetrate us. It is the ecstasy experienced before the beautiful and the good. Extend into your daily life this climate of great communication experienced with God in listening to His Word, and preserve the taste of the beauty in your dialogue with others in whatever work you do.