21st Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: Salvation is universal, available to all who are willing to walk the narrow door.
The Second Reading is a continuation of last week’s messages. It teaches that God uses suffering to teach his children, just like a parent sometimes allowing suffering to befall upon a child, so that the child may learn a valuable lesson. Just as a parent uses suffering to help the child grow into a mature adult, suffering is a necessary pre-requisite for a person to grow into a mature Christian. Seen in this way, suffering can be a channel of grace from God, to help us in our pursuit of spiritual maturity. But as surely as God is prepared to let suffering befall upon us, he is also always ready to deliver us. For “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
The First Reading was written in the historical context of the Israelites’ exile to Babylon. In a literal sense, the passage speaks of God’s promise of leading the people out of exile and returning to their earthly hometown of Jerusalem. In an allegorical sense, the Jerusalem refers to the heavenly Jerusalem, i.e. our heavenly home. The passage speaks of the universal nature of salvation, where God will “gather all nations and tongues” (verse 18), including those who “have not heard of my fame or seen my glory” (verse 18), to his “holy mountain Jerusalem” (verse 20).
Contrary to the teachings of the First Reading, the Pharisees believe that only Jews may be saved; and that salvation is dependent upon one’s observance of the Law. Hence, in this week’s Gospel, someone asked Jesus: “Will only a few be saved?” (verse 23) As a direct rebuttal of the Pharisee’s teaching, Jesus explained that salvation will not be limited to a specific group of people, but those who will be saved will come “from east and west, from north and south” (verse 29), echoing the First Reading’s message of universal salvation. This same message is equally relevant to us modern-day Christians as it was to the Jews of Jesus’ time. It would be a mistake for us to assume that Christianity is some kind of exclusive club whose members are guaranteed salvation; and anyone outside this exclusive club are guaranteedcondemnation.
If salvation is universal, it seems curious that in the Gospel, Jesus teaches that salvation comes to those who enter by the narrow door. Some interpret the narrow door to mean that very few people will be saved. In the context of Jesus’ teaching in this passage, this interpretation cannot be correct, as it directly contradicts the message of universal salvation. Rather, in responding to a question that suggested very few will be saved, Jesus explains that in spiteof the door being narrow, many can be saved. However, the door is narrow and hence is not comfortable to go through. In other words, salvation comes to those who are willing to bear the cross, and ‘do it the hard way’ so to speak. This is a continuation of the counter-cultural theme of the previous week’s readings, that “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (verse 30). Those who willingly accept their suffering will be first in the eternal life. On the other hand, those who tramped upon others for their own betterment will be last in the eternal life. And as explained in last week’s Gospel, families will be divided between those who choose to follow Christ and those who do not.
Salvation is universal, available to both Jews and Gentiles, Christians and non-Christians. The only requirement is one’s willingness to walk the narrow door.