21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

When I started flying regularly 25 years ago, the airlines recommended that we arrive at the airport an hour before our flights were scheduled to depart. After 9-11 and the expanded screening of passengers and luggage, the recommendation was changed to 90 minutes. Today more people than ever are flying. The recommendation is now 2 hours!

Standing in a long TSA security line is not the way most of us like to spend our time, but we accept it. We hope that it will keep us safe. We also know that if don’t cooperate, we won’t be able to get on the plane!

Flying today requires patience, preparation and good will. We have to arrive early and have our boarding pass and the proper identification. We need to be careful of what we wear. We can’t have liquids in our carry-on luggage that are more than 3 ounces. We must be willing to have our luggage and our bodies scanned.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus calls us to "enter through the narrow gate." We might think of it as the spiritual version of an airport security line. Because of God’s love and mercy, there are an infinite number of flights to the New Jerusalem. 

But the mere desire to be on one of those flights is not enough. We need to be prepared.  Today’s readings describe two important parts of that preparation: commitment and discipline.

Our first reading from Isaiah was written after the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem had been destroyed and neglected for many years. The people who came to the city included not only those who were returning but also new people. It was a city of immigrants. 

In Isaiah’s vision, God gives the people of Jerusalem a two-fold task. The first task is to rebuild the city and especially the Temple. It’s at the Temple that the people of Israel can re-establish their relationship with God and others are able to encounter God for the first time. 

But those encounters are not ends in themselves. After knowing God and experiencing God’s transforming power and movement in their lives, his people called to go out to others:  family, friends, neighbors and people in other nations. Today we call this evangelization, and it requires real commitment.

As Jesus explains in our gospel reading, simply hanging around him is not enough.  Saying “Lord, Lord,” won’t cut it. Once we experience the grace of God and grow in obedience to his will, we are called to demonstrate that inner transformation in how we speak and act in the world. We do this individually as disciples and we do it collectively as the Church. 

This is a lifetime process of learning and growth. It requires discipline. Often, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews points out, we experience this discipline externally, especially as children. We sin and make mistakes, and those things cause us pain. 

That pain, however, can teach us. That pain can call us to change. That pain can lead us to self-discipline, and self-discipline helps us to grow into the image of Christ. 

May we, as disciples and as the Church, keep striving to enter through the narrow gate.  +