Reflection on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

The readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found here.

1st Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21

Intro:  This is the culmination of a long prophecy written in prose style which seems to be talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile as a corrective action, a kind of discipline, for the people having not listened to the Lord. The survivors that you will hear are being sent out as a sign are the remnant who remained in Jerusalem. They are being sent out to gather the Jews who were exiled and people of the other nations with them. This foreshadows the Gospel which talks about people being left outside while they watch others enter the Kingdom.

2nd Reading: Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

Intro:  Even though this is a consecutive reading following last week’s and was not chosen to go with the theme of this Mass, it seems to continue the theme of the Isaiah reading. The author speaks of the suffering of the Hebrew Christians as discipline, preparing them for something greater.

Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

I do not know where you are from. Depart from me…

Developing relationship is, perhaps, the most exciting thing human life has to offer. Making friends, getting to know the other, developing a relationship of trust and developing true intimacy changes us. If the other person is good, it changes us for the better. Getting to know the goodness of another person causes us to reflect on our own lives and, oftentimes, take on the attributes of the other. Relationship changes us.

Relationships are a two-way street. In healthy relationships we come to know each other. If only one person is open, or trusting, or trustworthy, it is not true relationship. We cannot come to know the other if the other person is not willing to make themselves vulnerable. And, we cannot become known by the other if we are not willing to make ourselves vulnerable. A one-way relationship is not a relationship at all, there is not true intimacy.

In a true relationship, we come to know “where the other is from”. Yes, we find out things like where the person was born and where they went to school and things like that. But, more importantly, we come to know who the inner person is, what influenced them in life and gave them the courage to claim the goodness of the person that they are. We come to know where they are from at a much deeper level. That’s what Jesus is talking about in this Gospel.

When Jesus says “I do not know where you are from”, He is saying that He doesn’t know us and we do not know Him. Even though we may know who He is, we are not in real relationship with Him. We have not made ourselves vulnerable enough that knowing Him can change us.

Coming to know the Lord in an intimate way and making ourselves vulnerable enough that knowing Him can change us, isn’t easy. It requires that we learn to trust Him and take risks. We are so much more comfortable with human logic than we are with Gospel wisdom. It is hard for us to let go. Sometimes, maybe, we are afraid to go against the crowd and accept their wisdom rather than the Lord’s. Maybe that is the narrow gate; it’s so hard to squeeze through.

It might also be considered narrow because it doesn’t need to be wide; maybe so few people are willing to get to know the Lord that the Kingdom doesn’t need a bigger gate. Remember the story of the wedding feast (Mt 22:1-14) which ends with the statement “many are called, but few are chosen.” Those who were first invited didn’t even accept the invitation. Then, among the guests who weren’t originally invited but were brought in to fill the seats, there is the young man who was thrown outside because he didn’t fully accept the invitation.

There are several more-or-less modern examples of what I think this Gospel is about, too. Look at slavery in the U.S. Christian slaveholders even used Scripture in their efforts to justify holding slaves. Could they have possibly “known” Jesus, the preacher of God’s love? If that is not enough, what about the maintenance of racist separation, even in our Catholic Churches and schools, after the abolition of slavery? How could knowledge of the Lord allow for that? Praise God for the few who fought such actions. 1

We could also look at Nazi Germany where even priests and bishops supported Nazism’s treatment of Jews. Maybe this was related to our self-righteous teaching, whether official or not, that the Jews killed Christ. Could Jesus, who asked the Father, from the cross, to forgive us, feel like we know him when we act like that? 2

There are today examples too. I don’t need to list them, but we need to ask ourselves if we are making ourselves vulnerable enough to come to know the Lord. Are we willing to put our trust in Him and let Him change us? Is human logic so strong in us that we eschew the wisdom we would gain from real relationship with the Lord? Will He say to us “I don’t know where you are from.”?

Reflection Question

Listen:

“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!’” Lk 13:25-27

Reflect:

What words or phrases grabbed your attention during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday? What connection do those words or phrases have to your day-to-day life? (Why do you think they grabbed your attention?) What might God be trying to say to you through these words or phrases? What response should you make? What action should you take?

Alternative:

Reflect upon/Share about someone you feel like you really know well. “Where are they from?”, so to speak; what, in their development, makes them the person that they are? How is your relationship with them similar, or dissimilar, to your relationship with the Lord? What can you do to have a close relationship with the Lord, like the relationship you have with that person?

Verse by Verse

Lk 13:22 making his way to Jerusalem: Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem which began in Lk 9:51. He was travelling to Jerusalem to fulfill the purpose for which he came.

Lk 13:24 Strive to enter through the narrow door: This does not imply that there are other doors. The only door to salvation is narrow.

Lk 13:25a After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door…: Not only is the door narrow it is only opened for those who arrive in a timely manner. Don’t wait to accept salvation!

Lk 13:25b …then you will stand outside knocking and saying ‘Lord, open the door for us’: There is a dramatic tension here. You have already not been able to fit through the narrow door and, now, it has been closed completely.

Lk 13:25c Lord, open the door for us: This seems to be a similar warning to that about the five foolish virgins in Mt 25:1-13.

Lk 13:25d I do not know where you are from: The meaning is deeper than simply I do not know where you are from. It means, I do not know you. For me, it is similar to not answering phone calls from numbers I do not know.

Lk 13:27c Depart from me all you evildoers: This seems to imply that there is something evil in having had the opportunity to know the Lord and not taking advantage of it.

Lk 13:28b …when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…: The mentioning of the patriarchs, here, signifies the just being Jewish (and for us, just being Catholic) will not bring salvation. It reminds me of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Lk 16:19-31.

Lk 13:29-30 And people will come from the east and the west…: Not only does being Jewish not guarantee that you will be saved, but others who are not Jewish will also be saved. It’s not about what we are but the manner in which we live our lives.

Footnotes

  1. To read more about Christian support for slavery, read Time.com’s excerpts from the book “The Great Stain“.
  2. For a fair discussion of Christian complicity during the holocaust, see the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Encyclopedia.

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