JUST BEING A CHRISTIAN IS NO GUARANTEE OF SALVATION
(A biblical reflection on the 21st ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year C] – 21 August 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 13:22-30
First Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalms: Psalm 117:1-2; Second Reading: Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13
He went on His way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. And some one said to Him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drink in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity!’ There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the Kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30 RSV)
One of the strongest instincts of a human being is the desire to belong, to be included in a group, and even to be part of the “in” crowd. It is not without reason that people of all ages tend to form clubs and organizations. There is feeling of security that comes from the sense of belonging. Always to be left out, always to be excluded is a cause for sadness; but on the other hand always to be counted ini, always to be sought after, can be an excuse for complacency.
It was this instinctive desire to belong that prompted someone from the crowd listening to Jesus to ask: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). Jesus was probably asked this same question countless times during His preaching about the Kingdom. Among many of the Jews, the question of whether the Gentiles would be saved as part of the Kingdom was generally not even considered. They believed that descent from Abraham, together with the faithful observance of the Law, was what counted. The question asked of Jesus, therefore, referred only to the Jews. Apparently, the man who asked the question expected Jesus to give him a guarantee that he would be saved simply because he was a descendant of Abraham.
First, Jesus refused to answer the question about numbers as irrelevant. He insisted that the people should not be concerned about how many are saved, but rather that people should work to make sure of their own salvation, regardless of what others may do. Secondly, He shook the man out of his complacency by declaring that blood descent from Israel’s ancestry is no guarantee of entrance into the Kingdom. Salvation is not automatic for anybody. Jesus condemned the smugness that lay behind the man’s question, and added a stern warning that one must work hard to gain entrance through the narrow door that leads in the Kingdom.
That the words of Jesus apply to us as Christians is obvious. We were incorporated into the new people of God, the Church, not through physical descent from Abraham, but through the spiritual generation of baptism. Just being a Christian, however, is no guarantee of salvation. Nor is it proper for us to sit back and ask a lot of irrelevant questions about the salvation of those who are not Christians. First, such questions often imply that since we as Christians will be saved, it is only natural to wonder how people who are not Christians can possibly be saved. Secondly, the asking of such questions expends energy on something that is entirely up to God in His wisdom and mercy. This is not to say that we are not to work for the salvation of all men or try to win converts to the Church. Our Lord’s point simply is that we cannot take our own salvation as a matter of course. It is something we must work at, and work hard. There is no room in God’s Kingdom for the smug or complacent person.
To gain entrance into God’s Kingdom, more is required than mere membership in the Church. We must try to do God’s will in every aspect of our lives. Today’s second reading from the letter to the Hebrews emphasizes one particular aspect of God’s will: His wish to discipline us as His children, so that we may be worthy members of His spiritual family. God is doing us a favor by the discipline He imposes on us.
So we have no answer to the question of whether many or few will be saved. What we do know is that we cannot afford to be smug or complacent about our own salvation. We must work to do God’s will and to cooperate with His fatherly discipline, so that we can squeeze through the narrow door that leads into His eternal Kingdom.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You remind us that we cannot take our own salvation as a matter of course. It is something we must work at, and work hard. There is no room in the Kingdom of God for the smug or complacent person. Thank You for choosing the narrow way. Strengthen us in the choices we will make today, that we will always choose the narrow door leading us to You. Amen.
Jakarta, 19 August 2016
A Christian Pilgrim