Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel for the Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 21, 2022. The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection August 21 2022. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Narrow gate into field by Peter Barr, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons; Simon Dewey, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons; Domenico Ghirlandaio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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 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.”
Last week the gospel text presented an atypical image of Jesus. In the first verse of that gospel Jesus said that he came “to set the earth on fire (Luke 12:49).” The text went on to describe the division among families that the Christian community had already begun to experience because of their acceptance of Jesus’ teachings and values. After that text, Luke then goes on to describe Jesus exhorting the crowd, who know how to interpret the signs of the weather, but not the signs of their own situations, where they could judge for themselves what is right, and if only they did they could avoid being taken into court by their neighbor. The first verses of chapter 13 describe Jesus addressing the crowds. First he talks about those who look upon others as more sinful because of some tragedy that happens to them. Next, Luke recounts Jesus telling three parables. The first uses a barren fig tree to reveal the compassionate patience of God. The second is of a mustard seed that speaks of God’s ability to accomplish greatness with the smallest of seeds. The third focuses on yeast that although undetectable works into the whole measure of dough. Following those three parables the mood in Luke’s gospel shifts, as Jesus continues on his journey toward Jerusalem and into the text that is the gospel for this Sunday.
The first verse of this gospel states simply that Jesus had “passed through towns and villages… making his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). The towns and villages are not named; neither is the person who approaches Jesus. Their names would be distractions away from the question that is being asked. But in a familiar fashion, Jesus redirects the focus, shifting from a curiosity question of how many to a more significant question of who will find themselves within the kingdom of God. At the heart of the question is a belief commonly held by the Judeans of Jesus’ day: as people of Israel they were part of God’s chosen people, and they assumed that on that merit alone they would be part of God’s final realm. The Pharisees, however, held that only a remnant few would be included in the final reign of God.
Much of the life and culture of Jesus’ day was concerned with knowing who belonged within an individual’s in-group, and thus whom one owed allegiance to. Those outside that group were viewed as potential threats to the well-being of one’s primary group. One’s family was part of this in-group by the fact that one shared blood. The sharing of other bodily fluids (blood, saliva, semen, or milk) also created a bond between people. The most obvious example would be marriage partners. Another were those who shared the same wet nurse. In this culture they were looked upon as brother or sister and were not permitted to marry.
Another way of establishing a bond between people was through eating together. Throughout both the Christian and Hebrew scriptures, the significance of who is present at the table and at banquets is often a topic of discussion and a symbol used for instruction. Some examples that might come to mind are:
- the Passover,
- Abraham’s meal with the two strangers,
- Jesus dining with Zacchaeus, the tax collector,
- Jesus’ meals with the disciples after the resurrection, and
- Peter’s eating with the gentile converts who were not circumcised, and then refusing to eat with them after he received criticism for eating with non-Jewish Christians. (This becomes very important to Paul and to the whole Christian community.)
The parable Jesus tells in this text challenges those who think they know who will be included. Those who believe that they should be invited into the house (heavenly banquet) believe that they have been made part of Jesus’ inner circle because they have shared meals together. But twice in the parable the master says to those outside the house, “I do not know where you come from.” The parable also indicates that among those who are presumed not to be part of the household, there are some who will be welcomed. The parable concludes, “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 (Luke 13:29).” This is a familiar way of saying that people from all nations and ways of life will be part of the final age. It is important to note that some among those who believe they are part of the household will find themselves outside the door, and some who might be presumed to not be included will find welcome. The emphasis would seem to be on how one is striving to enter through the narrow gate, and not on membership in a particular group. The narrow gate of the city was the gate through which only a single person could enter. For the Christians for whom Luke is writing, that narrow gate is a person, Jesus Christ.
- Where do you see people being treated as insiders or outsiders?
- Do you have experiences of being treated both as an insider and as an outsider?
- Have you ever had the experience of being welcomed as an insider into a group even though you were an outsider?
- Do you know people who are especially good at making people feel like they are insiders?
- What do you hear underlying the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” How would you like to respond to that person?
- Toward the very end of the gospel Jesus tells the crowd, “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.” What do you hear Jesus saying to those who are listening to him that day?
- Can you take some time now to talk with God about what you are feeling as you hear Jesus talk about those who are included in the final reign of God, or about your own concern for who might be part of God’s reign, or your own fears and hopes about being part of the final reign of God?