The readings which the Church gives us this weekend is about salvation- who is it for and how can one attain it. Unfortunately, salvation is not a topic many people think about. Some people don’t really care what happens to them after death, some don’t believe heaven exists, and even more scary is many others don’t think hell exists. Some reason that if God is a loving and merciful God they he won’t let anyone be damned in hell. Have you thought about salvation? Have you thought about the criteria needed to be saved and spend eternity with God? When some people think about the criteria to go to heaven, they think about being nice or good enough. They assume they will be saved if they are good enough, or as long as they love more people than they hate, then they will squeeze through the pearly gates. Instead of assuming we know the answers to these most important questions, let us look at what Jesus says. And to answer those questions about who salvation is for and the criteria, I have some good news, and some bad news.
Let me start with our 1st reading and the good news. Our 1st reading is the last prophecy from the great Prophet Isaiah, and it is a shocking prophecy about the future age of salvation. Our Lord in the 1st reading says, “I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory”. All nations will gather and see the glory of God. What Isaiah is saying, is that salvation is for all nations, every single person, not just the Jews. Salvation is for the Gentiles, for the pagans too- salvation is for every person. 1 Tim 2:4 confirms, “God desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”. And Jesus himself says at the end of our Gospel, “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”.
Likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1037, teaches: “God predestines no one to go to hell. For one to go to hell, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end”. Notice that the Church teaches that God wants everyone to be saved, but that God allows people to choose heaven or hell, and God allows people to choose hell by a ‘willful turning away from God’.
So the good news is that God wants everyone to be saved, and it is good news that we can choose, it is completely up to us, but the bad news is that in order to choose heaven, it is going to cost us!
In our Gospel today from Luke, Jesus passed through towns and villages teaching as he went on the way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Jesus, “will only a few people be saved?”. Notice first, they didn’t ask, will many people be saved- this is probably because they had just heard Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God and how difficult it is to enter. How well have you read the Scriptures and really know what criteria Jesus gives in order to spend all of eternity with Him?
Notice also that Jesus doesn’t answer, don’t worry many will be saved. But rather Jesus convictingly declares to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate”. In Greek, the word here for to strive- is agonista, where we get the word agonize. So Jesus is saying even though it might be excruciatingly difficult, agonize your way through the narrow gate, for many I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough”.
I remember last year when I went to the Holy Land, in Bethlehem there is a big beautiful Church over where Jesus was born, but to get into the actual place of the crib, there was a very small and narrow entry way. The entry way was so small and narrow that I had to bend all the way down and slowly inch my way through, some had to crawl on their hands and knees. And in the large group, there was no way to kind of squeeze in riding the coattails of another, no way to squeeze your way through trying not to be noticed, rather everyone had to make themselves small and go through one person at a time. Such it is with us- we cannot squeeze into Heaven on the coattails of another, rather we must be intentional, we must intentionally choose and do what we need to do to enter.
In the book that I have encouraged you all to read, Forming Intentional Disciples- notice the word ‘intentional’ in the title. We cannot get into heaven on the faith of someone else, instead, we must intentionally choose and work for Heaven ourselves.
Jesus goes on to answer the question if few will be saved by using the image of people knocking outside the locked door trying to enter the Master’s house. The Master of the house will say, I do not know where you are from! This means that God just won’t let anyone enter. God cannot compromise the glory of Heaven by letting anyone in. But the Master of the house will only let in those whom He knows. The people outside then rack their brains about what he could say to let him in, “well we ate and drank in your company” and “we know that you taught in our streets”. Notice that they really don’t know Jesus, they just know things about him, hoping that will be enough. But Jesus says, “I do not know you, so depart from me, all you evil doers”.
My brothers and sisters, in Heaven there will be no evil doers. In fact, there will be no person who has any stain of sin on them to tint the glory of Heaven. Everyone in Heaven will know the truth of who God is, and God will know us in our entirety. Therefore, we must foster our relationship with God, to really come to know Him and allow ourselves to be known by Him! We must open ourselves completely, reveal our entire selves, unload all of the stink on us, and bask in the purifying love of God. We must allow ourselves to be to be known, and we must really know Him in order to spend all of eternity with Him.
Fostering that intentional relationship with God will confirm in our hearts that God does indeed know us personally; and God will also gently show us areas which He wants to work on in us, areas He wants to purify in us in order to make us more ready for Heaven. So let us not just assume we are ready for Heaven, but let us actually work to be more ready.
Frank Sheed in his book Theology for Beginners says it well, he writes: Sanctifying grace (the Grace we receive through the Sacraments but which we discard in mortal sin) is the power we are given for us to live in Heaven, of course there might have to be cleansed and purified first. But if we don’t have sanctifying grace in our souls then we cannot go to heaven; not because we lack the price of admission, but because quite simply our souls lack the powers that living in heaven calls for. It is not a question of getting past the gate, but of living once we get there.”
Finally, if we do know Him, and allow ourselves to be known, then I leave you with the exhortation to us, his children, our 2nd reading, “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines”. Even though it is hard work for us to attain Heaven, even though it is difficult, God so desires it for us, and everything God does, that which we allow him to do, is to prepare us for that blessedness. So, let us “endure your trials as ‘discipline’; for God treats us as sons and daughters.