Will Only A Few Be Saved?

(Twenty-First Sunday, Year C)

Today’s readings present us with an expansive view of salvation. Isaiah envisions people streaming into Jerusalem from “all nations” with offerings for the Lord. Some of the Gentiles (non-Jews) will be chosen as priests and Levites. Jesus picks up the theme:

"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." (Lk 13:29)

However, within this optimistic frame, Jesus gives a warning. When someone asks, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" he speaks about a narrow gate which many will not enter. He then paints a frightening picture of some, who thought they were doing just fine, standing on the outside begging to get in. Meanwhile, people they despised are inside, enjoying a great feast.

All the details of such a terrible scene cannot be taken literally. Nevertheless, a person ignores Jesus’ warning at great peril. The eminent theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, notwithstanding a certain tendency toward universal salvation, wrote: "It is indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost."

Many people have a hard time imagining something so drastic. They can conceive of someone such as Hitler or Lenin, who murdered millions, being in hell. But could little people, like you and me, do anything bad enough to deserve eternal punishment? But that is the wrong way of asking the question. The correct question is: How much freedom has God given you and me? The answer is he respects our human dignity so much that he allows us to choose to love him or not. If you wonder how an ordinary person could lose his soul, check out Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams. Not easy reading, yet one of the most haunting, harrowing stories I have ever encountered.

Jesus’ warning about the narrow gate, the possibility of being left out, comes down to this: Our present life is serious - and the stakes are enormous. Incalculably greater than the outcome of any election or war. C.S. Lewis expressed it incisively:

"People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules, I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” (Mere Christianity)

To recognize that each life will end in salvation or damnation should make us sober – but not sad. Our confidence is not the result our few puny efforts. It comes from experiencing divine mercy. As today’s second reading indicates, we view present disappointments and sufferings in that light. Those trials are part of his “discipline.”

"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." (Heb 12:5)

Cardinal Manning, addressing his congregation in Winchester Cathedral, spoke about trust in the Father. “Before Easter next we may be in the light of the Kingdom; or we may be in its outskirts expiating and awaiting the vision of God.” Because of that hope, “What matter, then, a little pain, a little sorrow, a little penance, a few crosses, if after a little while there be an inheritance of eternal joy.”

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Spanish Version

From Archives (21st Sunday, Year C):

2013: You Don't Have to Go to Hell
2010: More Important Than Life Or Death
2007: Depart From Me
2004: Wide Road to Hell and Narrow Path to Life
2001: Will Only A Few Be Saved?
1998: I Do Not Know You

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

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