September 14, 2019

The Problem with Wide Gates

A careful reading of the Gospels reveals the utter amazement of the crowds over the fact that Jesus taught with authority and convincing force. Apparently, they were accustomed to hearing nice, soothing words of reassurance, compromises and watered down messages from their rabbis. Hence, the first one to appreciate his teachings asked Jesus (Luke 13:22-30): “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  From Jesus’ reply to that person, it is evident that it would not be so easy. Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.

According to Dr. John J. Pilch, it was commonly held among the Jews of Jesus’ time that, if one did not belong to a prestigious family by birth, he/she had several options from which to choose. They could have shared the same wet nurse; married into the family; eaten and drunk at the same table; been taught by the same teacher, etc. Well, Jesus dashes all those pipe dreams: And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets.’  Then he will say to you, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!’

Depart from me all you evildoers.  

Being members of God’s family through Baptism, sharing the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, having heard his words from Holy Scripture, is not enough. Actually, it would give us a false sense of security and keep us away from doing all the good expected of us. It would also keep us from any serious effort to enter through the narrow gate.

Perhaps the hardest part of the message for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time is the aspect of the universality of God’s offer of salvation. It is a question of effort and generous cooperation with God’s grace; not of lineage, or acquaintance, or right connections or entitlements spawned from identity politics.

From the prophet Isaiah (66:18-21), we hear: “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory….” As usual, in the Gospel passage (Luke 13:22-30), Jesus is even more forceful and direct than that: “There will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham. Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets safe in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast off.  And people will come from the east and the west, from the north and south, and will take their place at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

No free passes, no coupons, no privileges, no entitlements. It is not a question of knowing Jesus, of having shared a (Holy) Meal with him, of having knowledge of his teachings, not even of some water poured over our head on the day of our Baptism. It is a question of “going to Jerusalem” with Jesus. It is mentioned right on the first line of today’s gospel: Jesus went through cities and towns teaching – all the while making his way toward Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, Jesus will find his narrow gate, his Calvary, his cross. Clearly then, a radical change of life is necessary to establish a bond of kindred with Jesus.

Nowadays Jesus’ words of warning would need to be even stronger. Political correctness, which is often condensed idiocy, influences also some of Jesus’ ministers resulting in the situation of lukewarmness, compromise and intimidation in which we live. Some ministers twist Jesus’ teachings to fit their agenda of holy greed, thus eliminating several crucial pages of the Gospel. Others prefer to water down God’s message to a palatable level instead of challenging their congregation to strive to enter through the narrow gate.  

In some churches, any controversial or difficult page of the Gospel has been neutered and eviscerated so that people can feel good about their lifestyle rather than face the need to repent and return to the Lord. The proposed solutions are: lower the standard, pave the road, level the field or, actually, make it all downhill! Who is accountable, responsible, guilty, deserving of punishment anymore? In other words:  who is sinful? 

In some places of learning, multiplication of easy courses and proliferation of awards for any little insignificant, half-baked achievement are also telltales of a pervasive attitude. Striving for excellence is frowned upon because it is not egalitarian, but racist. Those who study hard are considered arrogant nerds.

But, how can we expect Jesus to count on us to transform this world or, at least, to redress some of its shocking ailments if we subscribe, at least partially, to this new philosophy of softness, non-engagement and identity politics?

In no uncertain terms Jesus tells us that he expects from anyone who desires to enter into his Kingdom, not only to be accountable, dependable and ready to own up to one’s mistakes, but also to lead a life of boldness, without fear of consequences, of condemnation, of rejection. Jesus expects of us a life which must be contagious, disciplined, opened to honest efforts, sacrifices and hardships.

Nowadays, our western world tends to be driven by utopist ideologies. It is soft, spineless, disenchanted, extremely fragile and void of principles; yet also clueless, intolerant of any challenge to its stances, chillingly angry and often violent. Therefore, this world is particularly dangerous especially if we are not ready to accept God’s discipline, to toughen up for the inevitable fight and are not willing to embrace total self-immolation for Christ, his Gospel and his Church.

My children, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord nor lose heart when he reproves you; For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son/daughter he receives.

Could today be the day in which we do not expect to find in the homily what we want to hear but the genuine message of Christ? Could this be the day we become convinced that we are called to be salt of the earth and not honey—and, my friends, salt burns; salt stings.

We are called to be light and not skin lotion; and a bright light will keep people from dozing off. Let us try to enter through the narrow gate…the wide door is the wrong one! 

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin
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