Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
Where I come from, there’s a field of study called “Hebronics” which considers the patterns of thought and speech peculiar to New York City’s Jewish community. One characteristic is to answer a question with a question. For example, ask me, “What time is it?” and I may respond, “So do I look like a clock?!!” Or, without resorting to a question, you might tell me, “I just love the tie you gave me for my birthday this year!” to which I might reply, “So what was wrong with the tie I gave you last year for your birthday?”
Irony takes center stage in these exchanges and irony reverses our expectations.
This all reminds me that Jesus is Jewish and I’m not surprised that when someone asks him, Lord, will only a few people be saved? he answers, Strive to enter through the narrow gate…He reverses the expectation, not telling how many will be saved but how to be saved.
If only he stopped there! Remember those day laborers waiting to be hired. An employer gave field work to some–probably the best–early in the morning. He then employed the ones no one would hire for the final hour of work, sparing them labor in the heat of the day. All were paid the same generous wage.
Jesus says that the men who worked all day were resentful–as are righteous Christians because repentant sinners can be saved like people who have behaved themselves all their lives.
Think of Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus to his banquet. He was appalled that Jesus did not prevent a sinful woman from washing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them with expensive ointment. As Jesus points out, Simon may have done nothing wrong, but did he get anything right? Jesus gives him a list, in fact, of what he didn’t get right, whereas the woman was forgiven much because she had loved much.
The Letter to the Hebrews approaches this paradoxical teaching from a different angle. Being corrected is to my advantage. I may not enjoy it, but I might even welcome it because it will do me a world of good and may even reduce my hat size by a few numbers. There’s no room for shame if I want to follow Jesus.
Strive to enter the narrow gate. “Strive,” not “You’d better make it through the narrow gate or else!” It may not be easy, I may not do a great job of it, but I have to give it my best shot.
It’s not about being best or winning a gold medal. It’s not about ignoring the here and now for the big pay-off. Let me take now seriously and give it my best shot. Mistakes can be forgiven as long as I don’t pretend they’re anything but mistakes.