BEING A BAPTIZED CHRISTIAN DOESN’T GUARANTEE THAT ONE WILL HAVE A SPOT IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
(A biblical reflection on the 21st ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year C] – 25 August 2019)
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
The Scripture Text
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)
In today’s Gospel, someone who came to hear Jesus preach asks Him if only a few people will be saved. Modern Christians usually interpret this as a question about how many people God will allow into heaven, but it really refers to how many will enter the Kingdom of God. Although we often use the terms heaven and Kingdom of God interchangeably, they have very different meanings.
Because the Jewish people of Jesus’ day understood heaven to be God’s home, they believed no one was in heaven except God and His angels. Some Jews believed human beings who led good lives on earth did not go to heaven but had to wait in the land of the dead (also known as Hades or She’ol) until the end of the world when God would reward them by allowing them to enter into the His Kingdom.
The term “Kingdom of God” refers to the time when God will take control of the world and wipe out all pain and suffering. There won’t be any more wars or oppression and God will transform the earth back into what it was like before man and woman sinned. God will then invite those who led good lives into this Kingdom to enjoy the world as He originally meant it to be but He will leave the wicked outside where they will be waiting and gnashing their teeth. Notice that God’s Kingdom is not up in the clouds somewhere but is an earthly Kingdom separate and distinct from heaven.
The Jews often pictured the Kingdom of God as a fantastic banquet in which God will serve the finest foods. Those whom God will invite to this feast will enjoy the honor of sitting down at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the three patriarchs of the Jewish people) and will be able to eat all they want without getting sick.
There were many Jews of Jesus’ day who thought the Kingdom of God as was an exclusive club. Because they were God’s chosen people, they believed they were the only ones God would invite to the big feast. God would turn away everyone else at the door. In today’s Gospel, Jesus rejects this way of thinking.
Jesus warns His audience that being one of God’s chosen people does not, by itself, entitle them a spot in the Kingdom. Jesus says it is possible they will be on the outside looking in as many people (even despised and hated Gentiles from the north, south, east, and west) sit at the table enjoying the feast. Therefore, Jesus tells His fellow Jews no to be so smug.
Being a baptized Christian doesn’t guarantee we will have a spot in the Kingdom of God. We have to be Christian in deed and not just in name. Besides going to church on Sunday, how is our faith in Jesus obvious to those around us?
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 310-311.)
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, 23 August 2019
A Christian Pilgrim