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When the stakes of discipleship get higher (and feel too high!)

MOUNTAIN,MASS,CATHOLIC,CLIMB
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Lord, will only a few people be saved?

Someone asked Jesus, “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.” —Luke 13:23-24

Have you ever given any thought to what happens after the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass? 

For most of us, what happens in this ritual moment is second nature. Elevating the Book of the Gospels, the deacon or priest says, “The Gospel of the Lord.” We respond, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s a simple gesture and response. It is so simple and familiar, in fact, that most of us are already beginning to settle into our seats as we say the response, ready to listen to the homily that will follow.

“Gospel” is the English translation of the Koine Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (evangelion). In time, this word came to be translated into Latin as bona annuntiatio – Good News. With this in mind, the Second Vatican Council had this to say:

[The four Gospels] faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal life … The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. (Dei Verbum, 19)

This “honest truth about Jesus”—who he was, what he taught, the wonders and signs he performed—is indeed Good News.

And yet, as the Gospel passages we heard proclaimed last Sunday and this Sunday (the 20th and 21st Sundays of Ordinary Time, Year C) remind us, not everything Jesus taught was easy or was what many would even necessarily call “good.” In fact, these passages from Luke’s Gospel (12:49-53 and 13:22-30) are not only challenging, they almost seem to be at odds with the rest of Jesus’ teachings … or, at least, those teachings we generally seem to prefer. And yet, these passages offer invaluable lessons about what it means to be a disciple and help set the scene for our Gospel readings for the next several weeks. 

Scripture scholars point out that certain teachings in the Gospels and the Letters of Saint Paul, including this Sunday’s “Parable of the Narrow Gate,” were intended to address difficult questions being asked by Christian communities of the time.

One of these was the basic question of why some chose not to follow Jesus. As Christians began to be targeted for their faith—remembering that Jesus’ own prophetic stance stirred up hostility—the stakes of discipleship became higher and fewer individuals were willing to commit themselves to the life of Christ. Being a fan of Jesus the wandering preacher wasn’t sufficient. Much more was required. We see this hinted at in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews we hear this Sunday: 

You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline;”
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it. 

The word the author uses here for “discipline” can also be translated as “education.” This reminds us that each of us, as disciples, is being “educated” for the Kingdom and part of that education is coming to understand that following Jesus will demand something of us. 

Commitment to Christ requires that we take a stand, proclaiming truth and promoting justice, even when our message is unwelcome and unwanted. This means being willing to navigate the discomfort of the narrow gate. Simply “knowing” stories about Jesus or even having his words memorized is not enough to save us. We have to know Jesus personally and allow our relationship with him to shape everything about who we are and how we engage the world. 

How do you hear Christ calling you to a more committed life of service as a disciple? 

What passages of the Gospels and of the Bible do you find particularly challenging? Why?

What saints or holy women and men do you look to as a model for the Christian life? What can you learn from them?

Words of Wisdom: “Whatever trials we endure, whatever our ‘education’ involves, suffering reminds us that faith’s service to the common good is always one of hope — a hope which looks ever ahead in the knowledge that only from God, from the future which comes from the risen Jesus, can our society find solid and lasting foundations. In this sense faith is linked to hope, for even if our dwelling place here below is wasting away, we have an eternal dwelling place which God has already prepared in Christ, in his body (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5).

“The dynamic of faith, hope and charity (cf. Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 13:13) thus leads us to embrace the concerns of all men and women on our journey towards that city ‘whose architect and builder is God’ (Hebrews 11:10), for ‘hope does not disappoint’ (Romans 5:5).”—Pope Francis

In this sense faith is linked to hope, for even if our dwelling place here below is wasting away, we have an eternal dwelling place which God has already prepared in Christ, in his body.”

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