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Sunday Readings for Aug. 22, 2010 (21C)
By Fr. Orly Sapuay, M.S.
“Dare we hope that all will be saved?” Hans Urs von Balthazar, one of the greatest 20th century theologians, answered this question briefly, “We not only dare to hope, but we are obliged to hope that all be saved.”
St. Augustine, he said, was the first christian writer to claim that he knew there were people in hell. Before his time no Christian writer ever claimed to know that there were people in hell. Von Balthazar concluded: if you say you know there are people in hell, you are saying more than you know; if you say you know there is no one in hell, you are likewise saying more than you know. That is how it rests. We don’t know, but we hope.
Notice that Jesus did not answer the question, “Is it true that few people will be saved?” John of Norwich was exceptional in insistence on leaving such questions unanswered. There are two aspects to revealed truth, she said: The first is what we know of “our savior and salvation.” This is “open and clear, lovely and light, plentiful.” The other is “our Lord’s secret counsel” and we must not pry into those secrets. We must “always avoid dwelling on what the last deed of God will be,” she wrote. God gives us everything we needed for salvation, it seems, and statistics are no part of that.
In response to the question Jesus did say however that many "will try to enter and be unable" (Lk 13:24). He also said that "few" find the narrow gate that leads to life (Mt 7:14). He uses the word "few" again in the parable of the wedding banquet. "The invited are many, the elect are few" (Mt 22:14). This doesn't tell us exactly how many will go to heaven, but it can be disconcerting and certainly keeps us from the sin of presumption.
These "chosen few" will come from "nations of every language" (Is 66:18), "from the east and the west, from the north and the south" (Lk 13:29). There will be some surprises. "Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last" (Lk 13:30). However, you don't have to wait in suspense wondering whether you'll be "in that number," among the "chosen few." Right now, you can repent of sin, be forgiven, and give your life to Jesus. He died so you could be with Him forever in heaven. Let Jesus have His way.
What does the image of a door say to us about the kingdom of God? Jesus' story about the door being shut to those who come too late suggests they had offended their host and deserved to be excluded. Jesus’ response is nonetheless unsettling on two counts. First, Jesus surprised his listeners by saying that one's membership as a covenanted people does not automatically mean entry into the kingdom of God. Second, Jesus asserts that many from the gentile nations would enter God's kingdom. God's invitation is open to Jew and Gentile alike. But Jesus warns that we can be excluded if we do not strive to enter by the narrow door.
What did Jesus mean by this expression? The door which Jesus had in mind was himself. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved (John 10:9). Through the cross Jesus opens the way for us to enter into his kingdom. But we must follow Jesus in the way of the cross. The word strive can also be translated agony.
To enter the kingdom of God one must struggle against the forces of temptation and whatever would hinder us from doing the will of God (even apathy, indifference, and compromise). The good news is that we do not struggle alone. God is with us and his grace is sufficient! As we strive side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27) Jesus assures us of complete victory! Do you trust in God's grace and help, especially in times of testing and temptation?
"Lord, help me to always trust in your saving grace, especially when I am tempted and put to the test. Help me to be faithful to you and give me the courage and strength to resist temptation, especially temptation to compromise or to be indifferent to your word."