This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 13:22–30:
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. 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 the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
How many of us have had the “joys” of planning a wedding? At times, it feels as though you have to invite everyone in the world. You plan the food for those you invite, and then have to scale constantly as RSVPs arrive — or don’t arrive. People express interest but never get back to you on whether they’ll be there or not, even though by the deadline they may have received multiple and specific reminders.
Finally, on the big day, the happy couple might have a pretty good idea of how many people will be there, who sits with whom, and so on. And then not only does everyone who finally RSVP’d in the positive show up, but so do a dozen or more people who never responded at all. That’s not the end of the world, but to the newlyweds, it might seem a wee bit presumptuous.
Today’s Gospel and readings offer two different, but not mutually exclusive, views of salvation that brings this analogy to mind. Throughout salvation history, from Abraham to Jesus, the Lord promises to offer His love to all mankind, if they will only accept it. Israel was intended to be the city on the hill that drew the nations to His Word, with the Israelites acting as a nation of priests for conversion. God repeatedly invited the entire world to His table to become His sons and daughters by choice.
By the time of Isaiah, the kingdom of Israel had already begun failing in that mission. It had split into two, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, and the northern kingdom would shortly be wiped out by the Assyrians. Judah would fall a little over a century later. Both kingdoms had lost their way, operating for their own material ambitions rather than to serve the Lord in His mission of salvation for the world.
Isaiah reminds both nations that the Lord’s plans will not be stopped by their lack of commitment. In our first reading, Isaiah foreshadows the rise of the church in reversing the direction of salvation. “I will send fugitives to the nations,” God says through Isaiah’s prophecy, “and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.” In this manner, “all your brothers and sisters” will come to the holy city to pay homage to the Lord and learn His law, to the point where “some of these I will take as priests and Levites.”
All would be invited, and many would accept, Isaiah’s prophecy promises. And yet Jesus in today’s Gospel argues that few will truly accept God’s law and come to salvation, especially on their own. Instead, Jesus offers a somewhat humorous and perhaps even a bit cynical prediction about what will come on Judgment Day, when the master rises and locks the door. Suddenly, a great many people will want to come to the party, only to discover that they waited too long to RSVP.
And the reason this analogy works so well for me is that we’re actually being invited to our own wedding. At the end of time, we all have invitations to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when the Church will marry itself to Christ forever for our salvation, and we will live in the Lord. This is what we celebrate at Mass — this feast which Jesus uses as an analogy in His parable. We are called to prepare ourselves for our own commitment to entering into the Trinitarian life by our own free choice, forming ourselves to the Will of God while retaining our own individual and diverse identities. We are not to be swallowed up or obliterated; our salvation ensures that we will live an eternal life as the children of God.
This formation is necessary because of our sinful natures, which come with its own consequences. As Paul writes to the Hebrews in our second reading, however, that should not cause us to lose heart. “For whom the Lord loves,” Paul writes, “he disciplines.” Parents discipline children not out of anger but out of love and concern for the consequences of bad or willful behavior, Paul notes, and wonders why our Father should act differently with us. That discipline “brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it,” he continues, and then exhorts, “Make straight the paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”
That is formation, and we enter into that by choice. When we commit to becoming children of God, we send that RSVP to the wedding feast and begin to prepare ourselves to be a part of it. If we do not, we don’t just reject the invitation but also leave ourselves unformed and unprepared for the Trinitarian life. The Lord will not have locked us out of salvation; we will have locked ourselves out of it.
Just like with any other wedding, it’s better to RSVP earlier rather than later, and to get a head start on preparations.
The front-page image is a detail from a 1684 Arabic manuscript of the Gospels, copied in Egypt by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib (likely a Coptic monk). In the collection of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Md. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.