Reflection for Sunday – August 21, 2022

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

Full disclosure: I didn’t like this gospel.  Jesus is asked a simple question:  “Will only a few people be saved?”  Can’t he just say, “Yes” or “No.”  That’s wishful thinking on the part of my western trained dualistic mindset.  Jesus’ answer is messy, confusing, even contradictory, not really an answer at all, but very much Jesus’ style—a style that is crafted to break open small mindedness and make room for the Creator God of Surprises.

The answer Jesus offers is a cautionary tale. A wakeup call as if to say, “Don’t be so sure you’ve got a lock on the last word.  You may be surprised how the Lord can turn a story around.”   The last word belongs to the Incarnate Word—the Alpha and the Omega—who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The exchange between the villagers knocking at his door and the master of the house makes me wonder about recognition.  With all the sensibility of entitlement, they say, “You know us. We ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets.”  They expect to be let in.  But the master emphatically claims not to recognize them. “I don’t know where you come from.”

So here’s a question of recognition:

There is a man with no religion. He is the host of a dinner party; he sits at the head of his table but quietly refuses every dish that is passed to him until each guest is served and has taken their fill.  There is another man; he espouses Christianity. He stands at the head of another assembly proclaiming self-promoting lies and whipping into violence the fears and hate that lie hidden in the shadows of self righteousness. In which of these men is the Divine most recognizable? Whose Be-ing mirrors the Good News of Jesus Christ?  If the image of God in which we were created to be is distorted or obscured, who can see where we come from?

Just like it’s easier to deal with an emphatic yes or no answer, judging others comes easy, but in making a jumble of his answer to that unnamed “someone,” isn’t Jesus inviting me to take a deeper look at myself, to do some unscrambling of my own assumptions, to strive to understand what triggers my presumptions?           

Then what about this strength that’s required “to enter through the narrow gate?”  Surely it is not the driving strength of violence, hatred, revenge, unexamined passions, or unforgiven hurts, or the desperate but oh so human need to be among the chosen.  A key lies in the first lines of this passage describing Jesus “making his way to Jerusalem.”  That is making his way to the cross—the cross he carried, the cross he centered himself on, the cross where he commended his life into the hands of Almighty Love.

How often do I find myself drawn in two directions at once?  How often am I immobilized by my own crossed motivations and self-justifications? How often are my good intentions nailed to my fears? I can be my own cross of human contradictions and it takes a kind of strength to admit them all, to hold them up to the Light, to embrace the entire mixed up mess of my humanity, and then, to center myself with Jesus and surrender my trust to the Love of God. 

That strength is Grace.

The Good News is if we keep close, Grace will sweep us free of all our baggage and carry us through.

Marilyn Catherine
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