Sunday, August 18, 2013

Finding the Narrow Way Before It Is Too Late. A Homily for 8.25.13 from LUKE 13:22-30, the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for 8.25.13
LUKE 13:22-30
(see below)
21st Sunday in 
Ordinary Time
Year C

The Gospel Lectionary reading for today comes to us with a most serious cadence. The accent is that of danger, warning, and an increasing desperation.

As such, we are reminded that St. Luke does not write to bring the world tried and true methods for greater spiritual experiences, as uplifting as those can be. No, what concerns Dr. Luke most is -- shall I actually say the word in today's world? -- what concerns Dr. Luke most is TRUTH. Or, what one of the old-timers called "True-Truth."

To see what I mean, let us re-hear how St.Luke begins his gospel:

1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)
That is, in today’s world, where all truth is relative, and your truth is just as “true” as my truth, although they may be polar opposites, St. Luke wants us to know that there is ultimate truth, no matter how the post-modern, post-Christian truth-claim and constructs say otherwise.

Narrowly, then, what is the true-truth St. Luke would have us know?

1) GOD loves the world he created
2) GOD continues to work diligently, from the beginning to this present moment, to reclaim the world he loves from its fallenness 
3) Rather than attempting the impossible, to love the world from afar, GOD chose to love the world through a human family -- Abraham and his offspring 
4) This family was to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth 
5) Sadly -- because of the sinfulness of all people, including the fallenness of his own chosen family -- when his family was unable to fulfill its vocation to be light and salt, GOD still moved through this family anyway, raising up the obedient one, through whom all nations of the world would be blessed -- Jesus of Nazareth

6) This Jesus -- raised up as a prophet, but being more than a prophet -- then comes to GOD's chosen family, offering the final fulfillment of his Kingdom promises, made long-ago through the prophets and sages
7) But, there was only so much time for this Kingdom-offer from Jesus to be accepted. This family, this nation, must immediately turn from its rebellion against Rome and Herod -- fueled as it was by an overt nationalism -- and they must turn to the Jesus-way, the narrow way, of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and loving those who were despitefully using them.

8) This meant the nation had only a very short time to repent, to turn from their accepted way of being Israel to being the new, Jesus-way of being Israel
9) Like this young Jewish prophet, who was more than a prophet, they must walk this new way, this narrow way, which in the end would mean brutality and suffering for them. And, like Jesus the Messiah, they must absorb the hate and greed and violence of a world at war with itself, thus showing the world the reality of true humanity and thus becoming for the world its suffering servants.

What would they do?

Today's text opens to us the challenge they faced, and, by extension, the challenge we face.
Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
So reads the text.

To which we reply, “Saved from what? Hell? Saved from a post-mortem Judgment?”

No. This is not what concerns Jesus, and this is not his teaching at this time. That is, in its historical context, this text is not envisioning the end of time. In view, rather, is the coming complete devastation of Israel and the sacking of Jerusalem -- including the beloved temple -- by the Romans.

When that horrible day finally comes, Jesus warns, when the day of wailing and grinding of teeth falls upon you, there will be no escape, then. Then, as the Romans rain down fire and buildings on your heads, then you will come to the conclusion that the narrow way, the Jesus-way, the way of the suffering servant was true-truth, but it will be too late. Then, in the eleventh-hour, when your dilatory approach finally ends and you are force to scramble out on to the street and proclaim your affection for the Jesus-Kingdom -- “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets,” it will be too late. The doors will be shut to you.

How could they be saved 
from this horrible future? 

There was only a narrow way to salvation. One could only be saved by being GOD’s people for the world. Here, as New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reminds us, we find the difference between status and vocation. Their status as GOD’s chosen people must give way to their vocation to the be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

Said differently, the nation must become the suffering servants for the world, servants who offer the world a true view of the true humanness that displays the love of GOD. This meant, therefore, one could only be saved by repenting -- turning from their trusted way of being Israel and becoming the Jesus-way of being Israel. One could only be saved by becoming that truly human family that GOD always intended. One could only be saved by letting the Almighty write the truth of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness on the new hearts of flesh that replaced their former hearts of stone. And, finally, one could only be saved by letting GOD breath the new breath of humanness into the flesh and spirits of the dead, dry bones that had been killed by their sins of idolatry -- an overt nationalism, a hatred for the other and a love for the violent way of life.

How difficult this choice must have been for them. Jesus’ hearers must have heard his alternative as the path to self-destruction.

And, how should we hear this text? If we do not hear this as Jesus’ message. If we do not hear Jesus warning the nation in this way, then we will not feel the punch from the emotion in his teachings of persuasion. Jesus, the prophet is calling on his people to turn from their affection for power, money and violence, just as did the prophets of old.

But, for example, without this teaching from today's text, his breakdown before Jerusalem makes no sense. Think of his words as he presents himself to his people as their King:
" 28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, "Why are you untying it?' just say this, "The Lord needs it.' " 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34 They said, "The Lord needs it." 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40 He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out." 41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God." (Luke 19:28-44)
Now, having said this, we can, without violating the text I think, be reminded by it that we too face a day when the doors will be closed, when true-truth of the King will become known to all. And here we are talking about that day of days. In that day, when the King-of-Kings and the LORD-of-LORDs stands in power before the watching-world, then, as in today’s text, for many it will be too late.

I understand scripture to teach that no one will be excluded from the Kingdom who wants to be there, but surprisingly, there will be many who do not wish to be present to the LORD. That is, some will have so sinned against their conscience that they will be unable to know any love for GOD or for people. They will have lost all semblance of humanness. Their souls will have been so deformed, or should I say transformed by the pursuit of evil, that the powers of darkness will reign in them completely.

Thus, when offered the opportunity to become part of the blessed and part of the truly restored earth and humanity, they will refuse. And, in the final, sad and ironic twist to free-will, these poor souls, if they are still souls, will by their own choice whisk themselves away forever from the presence of GOD.

But, there is more. There is also a narrow way of salvation for us as well. Our vocation must take precedence over our status. Our vocation must be for the world. We must daily decide to be the suffering servants who offer this broken world at war with itself a true view of humanness. We must daily repent by turning from our fear from scarcity (Brueggemann) to a living faith that sees plenty from the Father’s hand. We must become that truly human family that GOD always intended his people to be. And, we must daily allow the Almighty to write the truth of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness on these hearts of ours, these hearts that so easily turn to stone because of the human condition still extant in all of us.


Luke 13:22-30
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 the 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.”