In his homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly shows us why we need to focus — focus our hearts and focus on what we want to do with our lives.
Readings for Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 117:1, 2
- Second Reading: Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
- Gospel: Luke 13:22-30
I think that not only myself but many people puzzle over this excerpt from the Gospel according to Luke, because we’re quite unhappy to hear Jesus saying what seems to us such harsh things.
From the beginning remember now that it is little Luke, Paul’s friend, and it was Paul who converted him, the only Gentile to be writing the sacred word of scripture in the Old and New Testament, little Luke.
And he begins this episode, he says, “Jesus now passes through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.”
This is sort of a catch sentence of his. He is saying this is what Jesus does, not just yesterday or today, tomorrow, but all the time: Jesus passes through towns and villages teaching. He is the teacher as he went and making his way to Jerusalem where he is going to suffer and die and be rejected and on the third day rise again.
And then someone in the crowd says, “Lord, how many people are going to be saved? Who’s going to go to heaven? Who’s going to go to hell? Can you tell us now?”
And that’s why Jesus is angry, because, as they used to say in the Sixties, we not only do not know the answers, we don’t even know the questions!
And the question has never been in Jesus’ mind. And it’s a kind of thing that you can get obsessed with.
The question, of course, is who is going to be saved and who isn’t going to be saved.
And Jesus has just got done telling them what it’s all about. It has nothing to do with the next life. It has everything to do with this life. He has walked, and he’s walking and teaching and preaching, and he is going to Jerusalem, and he will suffer and he will die and he will rise from the dead. That’s the whole message.
But the people want to know what’s going to happen in the future, what’s going to happen after we die.
And you can understand Jesus is nodding his head and he’s saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens after you die. What matters is how you live and how you live now. And leave the future to God. He’s the one who decides that. Even I, Jesus, do not decide that.
“But why should you be worried, because I have come to tell you that when you follow me, you live and you reach out…
“Why don’t you ask questions of yourself and say to your own heart, ‘What must I do to hear and listen to the lovely words of Jesus and put them into practice in my own heart among my own family in my own world?
“‘Why am I going to worry about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell when people all around me need love and care and concern.’”
And Jesus is saying, “Follow me and I will show you how you can heal them and help them and bring them to a life they never dreamed of.”
And so he’s rather harsh.
And then he says, “Enter by the narrow gate.” Enter by the narrow gate.
It sounds like just a few people are going to be saved, you know, the narrow gate.
And yet look at us. We all entered this church through the narrow gate.
And we entered this church through the narrow gate because we wanted to come into this church and be in this church and today participate in this ritual of God’s love and care and Jesus’ salvation.
And so we come by the narrow gate.
It means you must focus your heart and focus your attention and then you come through the narrow gate into a very large and lovely church and we break bread together and sing songs and become the people of God.
Michael Jordon, the basketball player that everybody knows, used to have this wonderful saying, “If you give me five basketball players who can focus, I’ll give you the world championship.”
And that’s what the narrow gate is. You have to maintain your focus. You have to know where you’re going, where you want to go.
And the decisions you make, God is going to leave all the decisions up to us. He’s not going to come and demand we all sit here or He’s going to send us all to Hell.
He’s saying, “Enter the narrow gate.” Focus in your heart. Focus in where and what you want to do with your life, instead of rambling around the world being pulled by every passing fancy or anybody that has a glib line.
Take your own life into your own hands and walk with Jesus. He will help.
You must keep your focus. Because in this life, if you’ve ever watched television, it’s very easy to lose your focus. It’s all around us how we tend to lose our focus.
And what happens to us? Then we get in arguments like, “It’s our fault. It’s his fault. I’ll never forgive him. Tana tana tana…” All this stuff, it doesn’t mean anything, you see, because we’ve lost our focus.
Our focus is to open our hearts and see the call of Jesus and walk in the way he tells us to walk.
He’s with us on our way to Jerusalem. At the end of the way, Jerusalem is, we already know it, some day we will die, some day we will enter, through death, into a new world, a new way of being. This is what he tells us in today’s gospel.
The part that kind of really disturbs us though is when the others are all wandering around. They haven’t lost their focus. They don’t even want to be considered able to walk through the narrow door, they’re not interested in the narrow. And so they wander around this way and that.
Of course, at the end, they come and they say, “Oh well, we’d like to get in, too,” you see.
And then, of course…
This is not God now, this is the landlord, this is a parable.
The parable is the guests really don’t care to come in at all, are not going to come in, until they find well maybe we’ll go to the party too and hang out now nothing else is going on at this time, we’re just going to hang out and see what happens.
And the one who invites them to the banquet says, “The door is locked, sorry.”
But he says something very interesting. He doesn’t say, “You’re not welcome.” Of course you’re welcome. God welcomes everybody. He says, “I don’t even know you, who are you? How could I know you?”
Now when the Jews say “know” they also say “love.” Adam knew his wife and she gave birth to a child. “To know” in God’s language is “to love.”
So what he’s saying is you never loved. You never loved yourself, you never loved each other, you never loved me, you never loved the banquet …
And, of course, when he says that, what he’s saying is, “I have come with a very simple message: you must learn to love.
“And if you do not learn to love, you’ll never know who I am, you’ll never know the meaning of your life, you’ll never know anything. You will just disappear.”
He doesn’t mean for us to get all hot and bothered and worry about this. It’s just a parable. But it’s true, it’s true.
But one thing is missing. God never locks the door. The door is always open. Because He loves us.
Not only is the door open, He’s in our hearts, even when we’re running all over the place unfocused, no attention, not caring, and then blaming everybody around us for the unhappiness of our lives.
He’s with us. And He whispers in our ear and says, “Okay, get up now. Find your focus and start walking.” And He never leaves us.
This is a lovely … if you think of it in this way and you learn two things. Number one is the key is love. If you want to find God, love.
Love the person next to you, love the children, love the old people, love those who need your help. And you’ll find them all over the place.
And the door is always open because you’re focused and you walk through that narrow door of love and you’re into a whole community.
The real reason why this is so powerful is in the last few lines.
Because St Luke is very tricky.
He’s not saying, “I’m not a Jew and everybody around us that hears these words is a Jew, and I have come to preach and join the Jewish religion because Judaism has salvation because they have given us God and they have given us Jesus.”
He doesn’t say that, but he does say to all the people who think that they’ve already arrived and are quite happy with themselves and quite pleased that they’ve already made it, he says to them:
“People will come from the east and the west and the north and the south and will recline at the table in the Kingdom of God. For those who were last, the outcasts, they shall be the first.”
And so he’s reminding us that our community is open ended.
I’m going to end with this very short story. It’s a story of a bum, an alcoholic who was sitting outside our church.
And because he smells a bit and he’s not really acceptable to the community, he’s left there. And he’s quite disappointed, because every time he wants to walk in, one of the big guys kind of pushes him out onto the steps.
And then all of a sudden another little old bum comes and sits next to him and he says, “What’s wrong with you?”
And he says, “I’ve been trying to get into this church, but they won’t let me in. And I feel terrible, I’m being rejected.”
And the other little bum says, “Don’t feel bad, they’ve rejected me too.”
And the other bum says, “Well, who are you?”
He says, “I’m Jesus Christ. They reject me all the time.”
Smile, it’s supposed to be funny. But it’s got a great truth to it.
The truth is that the Kingdom of Heaven that he came to preach is already in your own heart. You don’t have to go running around reading theology books and doing all…
The Kingdom of God is in your own heart and you must pay attention to it.
Because the voice in your heart is your conscience and the voice of your heart is saying, “Focus.
“Walk the way that he tells you to walk and you will find love and you will find forgiveness and you will find compassion and you will find hope, like a little girl who welcomes you every morning when you get up.”
Hope is that little girl that says, “Yes, it’s all true. Follow him and you will be, as you already are, in the Kingdom.”