Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time—August 25

Narrow Gate2[1]
Enter through the narrow gate
Central Idea: God will help us overcome our evildoing through his fatherly discipline. Doctrine: A child of God is to become a strong doer of good through moral discipline. Practical Application: An important moral discipline is ascesis or mastery of the soul over the body.

For the Lectionary readings 123, click here.

Central Idea: God will help us overcome our evildoing through his fatherly discipline.

Reading 1 Is 66:18-21

  • Seemingly no longer the Chosen People dwelling in the Promised Land, the nation of Israel is suffering great affliction and her survivors are dispersed throughout the world.
  • Isaiah proclaims that God will send out messengers to proclaim him to all nations.
  • The Gentiles will respond by making pilgrimages to Jerusalem. They will bear with them—like an offering—these dispersed Children of Israel.
  • God will make some of these returning Jews priests and Levites, so the proper worship of God will resume.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 117:1, 2

Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.

  • God the Father is not just the God of the Jews but of all nations.
  • To know about God the Father, revealed to the Chosen People, is a great blessing.
  • How much more a blessing is the news of the salvation and sanctification of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Reading 2 Heb 12:5-7, 11-13

  • The author of Hebrews reminds the early Jewish Christians that the difficulties they are enduring have a purpose.
  • God treats his children the way a good father treats the son he loves. That father disciplines his son when he goes wrong.
  • Everyone who takes his Christian faith seriously will experience afflictions.
  • These trials should be seen as training or discipline to heal and strengthen us.
  • While being experienced, God’s discipline seems a cause of pain, not joy. But after being endured, this discipline will be a source of joy. This is so due to “righteousness”: having done what is right and being more able to do what is right.

Gospel Lk 13:22-30

  • Our Lord is making his way to Jerusalem, where he will accomplish our salvation.
  • Somebody asks him what looks like a simple question, “Will only a few be saved?”
  • It is hard to know what the questioner had in mind, but we assume he means, How many people will receive the salvation you have come to bring us? Or, How many will go to heaven?
  • It is also hard to understand Christ’s answer, since he responds both with a parable and an entwined explanation of the parable.
  • Salvation is pictured as a “place,” the kingdom of God. To get in you must enter through a “narrow gate.” Inside, many are reclining at table, taking part in a meal, resting and eating and drinking wine.
  • The Lord, the master of the house, has arisen from the feast, gone outside to the “narrow” gate of his property, and locked it because it is night. Outside are people just like the questioner, Jews. They have not been “strong enough” to enter through the narrow gate. They are knocking and asking to be admitted. The master refuses them entry saying he does not know where they are from. They say, we are your countrymen. He replies again that he does not know who they are and that they are evildoers who must depart. Those people who are rejected are very upset and wail and grind their teeth.
  • Christ comments that people just like the questioner will be deeply upset if they are not saved. They will see all their Jewish ancestors admitted to the kingdom of God but they themselves will be cast out. They will also see many Gentiles from the four corners of the earth admitted to the feast of the kingdom of God.
  • A question for us Gentile Christians is, What will exclude us from the feast of the kingdom of God?
  • The answer is evildoing. Those who are not admitted are “evildoers.” It does not matter if you are a Jew who actually heard Jesus preaching or a Christian who attends a religious service every week. Salvation comes from Christ, but if you are an evildoer you don’t know Christ and he doesn’t know you.
  • Yet there will be people from every nation and race and time who will achieve salvation and be admitted to the feast of the kingdom of God. Many of these will have higher places of honor than Christ’s immediate hearers.

Doctrine: A child of God is to become a strong doer of good through moral discipline

  • God has entrusted the message he sends out to all the nations to his Church (CCC 79).
  • This Gospel is meant for every human being. “God ‘desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,’ that is, of Christ Jesus.Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth” (CCC 74).
  • This Revelation was promised by the prophets (CCC 75). We just saw an example from Isaiah: God will send out messengers to proclaim him to all nations.
  • “The entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up” in the person of Christ the Lord” (CCC 75).
  • Christ fulfilled Revelation in his person through his words and actions (CCC 75).
  • The apostles, by Christ’s command, “were to communicate the gifts of God to all men” (CCC 75).
  • “This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline” (CCC 75).
  • Those who are “not strong enough to enter through the narrow gate” of salvation are those who commit culpable and avoidable evil. They are the “evildoers” of Christ’s parable.
  • However, we become “strong enough” through the afflictions which our loving Father sends us as reproof.
  • Thus, the Gospel includes moral discipline, that is, we must do our best to obey the moral law to become the opposite of evildoers: strong doers of good.

Practical Application: An important moral discipline is ascesis or mastery of the soul over the body. [1]

  • What is “moral discipline”?
  • Ascesis or the practice of asceticism can be described as a kind of training in order to become virtuous.
  • “Fasting and abstinence” is the common Scriptural term for this kind of spiritual discipline.
  • Self-denial seems like physical training, and it is, but it is also always a mental training. The soul—the mind and the will—exercises control over the body, and the body complains to the soul, which feels it!
  • Our Lord said, “he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:38). St. Paul explains: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:25-27).
  • Ascesis is a struggle of our soul over our animal nature. It is not that our animal nature is bad, since God has made our bodies, too. It is that our desire for pleasure and for the avoidance of pain, our ever-changing emotions, and our powerful passions, pull us in all kinds of directions.
  • As soon as we set out to do the will of God (to “enter by the narrow gate”), we have to begin to subordinate our lower appetites to the dictates of right reason and to the law of God. This is done both to avoid sin and to express love for God and neighbor.
  • If we actually do this, we begin to overcome vices and build virtues.
  • We cannot accomplish this without grace, which God gives us abundantly in the Sacraments. But unless we make the effort, this growth cannot occur. Thus, being “strong enough” to enter through the narrow gate of salvation means making the effort with the help of God’s grace.
  • Suppose you set out to avoid the sin of gossip, that is, saying negative things about someone behind his back. You have to give up the pleasure that running down one person to another gives you. Giving up that enjoyment is a little death. Yet by doing so, you grow in the virtue of justice, since it is unjust to gossip, and temperance because you control yourself, and prudence, because you have made a sound judgment and carried out.
  • The minimum struggle we must make encompasses the effort to avoid mortal sin and to obey the precept of the Church to “observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church” (CCC 2043).
  • Ascesis is all about “mastery of the will over its acts” and “freedom of heart” (CCC 1734, 2043).

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