HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
THEME: The universalism of salvation and the relationship between Christianity and other religions.
BY: Fr. Jude Chijioke
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY AUGUST 21 2022
Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13; Luke 13: 22-30
“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 south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.” (Lk 13).
Sisters and brothers, there is a theme in our liturgy that is of interest even in our present age, that of the universalism of salvation and the relationship between Christianity and other religions. These themes are of a concrete theological and ecumenical interests. The same multiracial society in which we are called to live puts us in contact with different faiths, which sometimes threatens our existence as a people. The question that was addressed to Jesus in today’s Gospel sometimes surfaces on our lips, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” If we want to broaden the question, will only Christians in the explicit sense be saved? Will only those who fully have faith in you enter perfect communion with God? Do Believers Only, Strictly Belong to the Kingdom of God?
Jesus offers us a first response today, far-reaching. Too often, we are tempted to circumscribe salvation only to our own church, our faith, group, or movement. Though it is superficial to say that “all religions are good”, however, it is fundamental to know that the frontier of salvation goes beyond spiritual territories, boundaries, and schemes.
Christ explains his position in two reflective trajectories and images. Let’s start with the negative one, the largest and most controversial. To enter the Kingdom of God, externals like ecclesial membership is important but not enough, as we see in those who cry out, “We ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets.” Jesus often repeated these words. “Not everyone who calls me: Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me on that day: Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? And cast out demons in your name? And perform many miracles in your name? But I will say to them: I do not know you; depart from me, you workers of iniquity” (Mt 7, 21-23). “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Then, extending his hand to his disciples, he said: Behold my mother and brothers; whoever “like Mary” does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother “(Mt 12: 48-50).
“Eating and drinking” the Body and Blood of Christ every Sunday, listening to his Word, multiplying prayers are important, but not yet decisive for salvation. Religion must become innervated in existence, in life; prayer must be accompanied with enduring commitment to charity, liturgy must open itself to doing good and justice. Otherwise, as the prophets constantly warned, the cult will remain hypocritical and unable to save us.
The image Christ initially uses is that of the “narrow door”. It well represents the commitment that is necessary to reach the goal of salvation. The Greek verb used by Luke and translated as “strive” is very suggestive: agonizesthe indicates a struggle, a kind of “agony” that entails fatigue and suffering, which involves the whole being and not only the mind and the heart. To believe is, therefore, a serious and radical attitude, not reducible to a skimpy sign of the cross, to a devotion, to a lighted candle. These can only be signs of a painful, industrious, daily adhesion.
We now move to the second aspect of Jesus’ discourse, the positive one. All the righteous of the earth who have praised, loved, and worked in the name of their faith with sincerity of hearts are admitted into the Kingdom of God. This declaration of Jesus makes us understand that all those who with a pure heart and a life of love have consecrated themselves to God in the diversity of the various religious confessions will also be saved. Let us not forget, in fact, that in the scene of the final judgment traced by Matthew in chapter 25 of his gospel, the unit of measure of salvation is the love offered to the poor and the least, for the face of Christ is hidden in them. We can now ideally complete the sentence of the Apocalypse (7: 9) which depicts the happiness of the elect in the holy city of the heavenly Jerusalem with a legitimate addition: “An immense multitude appeared, which no one could count, of every nation, race, people, language and religion, standing before the throne.”
Fr. Jude Chijioke