21 August 2016: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 66:18-21 Ps 117:1, 2 Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 Lk 13:22-30


Discipleship: the narrow door

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe the universal call to discipleship, its urgency, and the consequences for those who are slow to accept.

The first reading from Isaiah tells Isaiah’s prophecy that God calls “all nations of every language” to Jerusalem to worship with the Jewish people. This prophecy foreshadows the messianic banquet of today’s gospel.

The second reading continues our reading from the letter to the Hebrews. In last week’s reading, the Hebrews’ author recommends Jesus and his sufferings as model for readers and their persecution. In this week’s reading he calls their persecution a “discipline.” The Greek word παιδεία (pah-ee-DIH-ah) means “the correction given to children.” God’s discipline, while uncomfortable, strengthens the readers’ resolve to live according to Christ’s teachings in a polytheistic, non-Christian world.

Luke’s gospel continues Jesus’ discipleship teachings. Jesus is about half-way through his journey to Jerusalem. Although Jesus invites everyone to God’s kingdom, only those who persist in discipleship will share in the messianic banquet. Today he gives two sayings and a parable about preparing for the kingdom and the feast:

  • Saying 1: strive to enter by the narrow door. The Greek word ἀγωνίζομαι (ah-go-NIHd-zoh-mah-ee), translated as “strive,” comes from a word meaning a contest or struggle. The word ἀγωνίζομαι carries an urgency that the English word “strive” does not–Jesus urges his hearers to strain every fiber of your being to get into the kingdom. Jesus also says that a “narrow door” leads to the kingdom and the banquet. In the parable that follows, he explains how the door is narrow.
  • Parable: the house-master. Jesus warns that the time is short–at some point “the house-master locks the door,” locking out those who haven’t acted. Those outside bang on the door and plead, but the house-master says “I don’t know you.” The outsiders claim they shared a meal with the house-master and heard him teach, but still the house-master says, “I don’t know you. You failed to act for good. Go away!” The outsiders failed to act as true disciples–to “change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). The banquet goes on inside, with Abraham, his descendants, the prophets, and some surprise guests. The first reading reveals the identity of these guests; Jesus’ second saying explains how they got in.
  • Saying 2: the last are first. Some of those invited first to the messianic feast–the Jews who heard Jesus teach–failed to act on his invitation to become disciples. As a result, the ones invited last–those from “all nations of every language” who chose discipleship–will be seated ahead of the ones invited first.

Today’s readings tell RCIA participants and the whole believing community that the door to God’s kingdom and the banquet is narrow. We have to work to get in. And the door won’t be open to us forever. Discipleship, lived every day, is the narrow door. The house-master won’t open the door for casual Christians or in-name-only disciples. Are we straining every fiber of our being to live the gospel? Are we acting for good or are we settling for the world’s good-enough?

—Terence Sherlock


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