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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

21st SUNDAY -C- August 25, 2019

Isaiah 66: 18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13; Luke 13: 22-30

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

I wonder if the person who asked Jesus, "Lord will only a few people be saved?" was asking out of curiosity or because he or she was feeling cozy and part of the "in crowd." Did this person feel safe and secure thinking that what Jesus was saying about being rejected at the end time could not possibly apply to him or her? Was the "someone" who asked the question one of those traveling with Jesus towards Jerusalem? Did the questioner think that membership in Jesus’ band automatically brought dividends with no further self-investment; just being with the Teacher would be enough?

The opening of today’s gospel narrative should cause us in the pews and at the altar to squirm. Are we just going along with the group, we who are members of the community and lead respectable lives. We follow the rules and fulfill our obligations. Is that enough? Maybe for us and those who admire us – but not for Jesus. Instead of playing the numbers game, answering the question about how many are to be saved, Jesus deflects the questioner’s inquiry. Forget about how many will be on the final guest list for the banquet, look instead to your own quality of discipleship. Jesus says we are to "strive" to enter through the narrow gate. From the Greek for "strive," ("Agonizesthe") we get our word "agony." This gives us a sense of what effort will be involved to get through that gate. The word could be applied to a strenuous athletic effort, the energy, pain and dedication athletes put into competition like the Olympics. Years of herculean efforts have brought them to the games, it has been a "narrow gate" indeed for them. Jesus calls his disciples to such efforts on behalf of the reign of God. He knows the goal is worth the effort. But as we preach from this passage we need to be cautious.

If we are not careful, this passage can be a trap for us preachers. In calling us to "strive," to work hard to enter "the narrow gate," to be "strong enough," the impression we might get is that if we put enough effort into it, we can enter the reign of God. All it requires is a lot of sweat, dedication and perseverance. But remember that grace lies beneath the surface of the biblical stories. Entrance through the narrow gate begins with an invitation from God. Having heard and accepted the invitation, we are in the realm of God’s grace, the constant source, energy and inspiration for our "striving."

Today’s Isaiah and gospel readings show how inclusive is God’s saving outreach. We may have our notions of who is "in" and who is "out"; who is worthy and who is not—but the gospel cautions us not to jump to conclusions and not to be smug. What kind of logic and world are we being invited into when the first are last and the last first? That’s certainly not the world to which we are accustomed. Of course not, it is an entirely new world-- a new way of reasoning, judging, rewarding and giving entrance. In fact, the gospel suggests we put our math and standards in storage and let God be God when it comes to who comes through the admissions gate. We should tend, Jesus reminds us, to our own concern. We have heard the gospel, accepted Jesus’ promises, known the difference grace can make in our lives—and now we can strive to reach the finish line----thanks to God!

To help make the point that we do not earn entrance to the reign of God on our own, today’s account begins with a reminder of place. Remember Jesus is on the road, making his way to Jerusalem. A major section of Luke’s gospel (9:51-18:14) takes place on the road to the holy city. So, the reading begins with a reminder that the "striving," the difficult task and struggle needed to accomplish our salvation, will be first achieved through Jesus’ dying and rising in Jerusalem. Jesus will faithfully fulfill his mission to preach and practice the good news, even though it will mean his death. In today’s passage, as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, Luke would not have us forget that the source of our new lives is Jesus; through him we are given the desire and commitment to "strive" to get through the narrow gate.

In Jesus’s society, when people ate together they became part of the inner circle, they were like family members. Those who are locked out of the house, in his brief parable, are claiming prerogatives from Jesus because, they say, they belong to his "company," they ate and drank with him and his disciples. Based on their standards of acceptance, they are right, they belong with Jesus. But Jesus says more is required of those who sit at table with him. For those of us with him at this eucharistic table, more is required than membership in our church, parish and community. Salvation is not guaranteed to a privileged group who claim rights based on membership.

Those requesting admission at the door proffer still more credentials to get in. They claim Jesus taught in their streets and sat among them in their synagogues. Jesus’ response is abrupt. More than hearing him is necessary; more than being able to recite correct doctrine is needed to make us people who bear his name – Christian. We have to put his words into practice. But how inclusive should that practice be? As wide as the world in which we live. We must be open to all, "from the east and the west, and from the north and the south," for those who are good, no matter what their background, will be invited to dine with Jesus and the great ancestors of faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Such a vision must have startled Jesus’ hearers who thought they would be among the privileged because they could claim Jesus as "one of ours."

Why is this gate "narrow?" Gustavo Gutierrez puts it this way.

  • The narrow door is clearly restrictive not in reference to people but in terms of the "right" to be saved. Salvation does not come from a mere physical closeness to Jesus (vv. 26-27). It is not enough to have eaten and to have drunk with him or to have listened to him in the public squares. It is not the consequence of belonging to a specific people either, in this case the Jewish people (v. 28). The text does not say it, but in fidelity to the spirit of Jesus’ answer we could add that salvation is not limited to one race or one culture. Salvation comes when we accept Jesus and start to follow him. This is the narrow door, the only door to life and it is a demanding entrance. At times, it may be painful, like the discipline mentioned in Hebrews, "but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (12:11). ( page 211, see below)

We may be too restrictive in our estimation of where God is present and acting. We tend to look only within our church walls to see God’s special ones; we tend to rank one denomination over another as "truer" than others; we tend to make too sharply-defined distinctions between the useful and useless; we tend to jump to conclusions about people’s worth from how they look and speak, the jobs they have or don’t have, the income they make, their place of origin. Well, the last shall be first and the first last and "they" will come from all the points of the compass to sit at the table. So, we had better put on our biblical lens, look again and, if we have not already done so, start "striving" to live as people with another vision of reality.

When we enter the final and everlasting banquet, Jesus tells us, we will be surprised at those enjoying the feast. God has a pretty broad vision and we will be surprised at those who "made it" through the narrow gate. If we accept this vision of the end time then we should start preparing for it now. We need a change of glasses; we need to look at our world through biblical lens and act accordingly.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082519.cfm

ONE GOOD BOOK FOR THE PREACHER

Gustavo Gutierrez, SHARING THE WORD THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR, (translated by Colette Joly Dees). New York: Orbis Books, 1997.

Commentaries on the three-year Sunday readings by the renowned Peruvian theologian. These reflections were first shared with his small Christian community and so they have a strong pastoral tone.

QUOTABLE

[On preaching from more than one scripture reading.]

To seek a theme arising from a decontextualized Old Testament snippet, a psalm, an unrelated epistle, and a Gospel that looks back to the snippet–all the while respecting one’s exegesis of each text—is to seek a chimera.

But even beyond the exegetical difficulties, it is my experience that preachers who tackle more than one text often deliver not a homily with a single message, but rather a series of mini-homilies held together by conjunctions, semicolons and hope."

----Stephen Vincent DeLeers in PREACH: ENLIVENING THE PASTORAL ART, May-June, 2004, page 35-36.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Praise the Lord, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!

Psalm 117:1

Each year from September 1 to October 4, the Christian family unites for this worldwide celebration of prayer and action to protect our common home. As followers of Christ from around the globe, we share a common role as stewards of God’s creation. We see that our well-being is interwoven with its well-being. This year, the theme for the season is biodiversity, God’s web of life. Consider the unique value of each creature in God’s wondrously complex web of life. What will you do this coming month?

Here are the global events:

September 1: Creation Day/World Day of Prayer for Creation

Creation Day, also called the World Day of Prayer for Creation, opens the Season each year. Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, the World Council of Churches, and many other leaders have called the faithful to celebrate it. Globally, Christians are invited to join services to come together in a joyful celebration of our common cause. More information can be found at www.SeasonofCreation.org .

September 21: International Coastal Cleanup Day

For over 30 years, communities have come together to remove trash from coastlines and waterways including ponds, lakes, and rivers. Together, these volunteers remove and catalogue mountains of litter every year. Your community is invited to join. To learn more, please visit the Ocean Conservancy.

September 23-29: United Nations Climate Action Summit

The UN Secretary General is hosting a summit devoted to climate change, with the aim of calling the world’s attention to the urgent need to implement the Paris Agreement. Every fraction of a degree in warming means more hunger, more sickness, more conflict. The UN Secretary General’s summit is a chance for the people of the world to rally around real, ambitious policies to solve this crisis.

October 4: St. Francis Day

Many traditions view St. Francis as an inspiration and guide for those who protect creation. October 4 is his feast day and the last day in the Season of Creation. Faith leaders from around the world will come together to reflect on how St. Francis has informed their spiritual journey and to celebrate our month-long journey together.

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Jesus said:

"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."

Reflection:

When we enter the final and everlasting banquet, Jesus tells us, we will be surprised at those enjoying the feast. God has a pretty broad vision and we will be surprised at those who "made it" through the narrow gate. If we accept this vision of the end time then we should start preparing for it now. We need a change of glasses; we need to look at our world through biblical lens and act accordingly.

So, we ask ourselves:

  • When I hear the phrase "God’s people" whom do I think are included?
  • How does what Jesus says broaden my notion of those "chosen" by God?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Timothy White #0434845 (On death row since 8/31/00)
  • Michael D. Holmes #0189289 (9/8/00)
  • Shan E. Carter #0486636 (3/19/01)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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