21st Sunday of the Year
Isaiah 66:18–21; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; Luke 13:22–30
Tugboat or sailboat?
Each of us must decide whether we will be a tugboat Christian, a sailboat Christian, or a raft Christian.
Ayoung man wrote a letter to a priest. He told the priest
he could use the letter any way he wished. Except for a few minor changes, here’s what the young man wrote:
“I was one of the top swimmers in my category in Canada.
Then one day I let my friends talk me into experimenting
“I got hooked, and soon my mental, physical, and spiritual health deteriorated badly. . . . I knew I was all screwed up.
I became lonely and terribly frightened. There was no one
I could talk to.
“To make matters worse, I was in debt to drug dealers for over $3,000. I figured my only way out was suicide, so I went home and wrote this note:
“ ‘Dear Mom and Dad,
“ ‘I am sorry to cause you this pain. . . . Please don’t grieve too much. If I had stayed alive, I would have caused you a
lot more grief than by what I just did. . . . I love you and the whole family. [signed] Christopher’
“I began to drink to overcome fear as I prepared to take
my life. Then, at the last minute, something made me stop.
I grabbed the phone and called a crisis center.
“I didn’t know it then, but my mother was praying like mad for me.
“A few days later I entered a drug rehabilitation program.
Soon I regained my physical and psychological health.
“It was then that I started reading the Bible. The more I read it, the more peace and joy I felt. This led me to put all my trust in God.
“Meanwhile, there developed in me this growing desire
to learn more about Jesus and to get to know him better.
“It’s kind of funny. I must have prayed on my knees
at least ten times asking Jesus to come into my life before \
I realized that he was already in my life. . . .
“All this happened about five years ago. Since then, God has blessed me greatly. I teach in a Catholic high school and I’m active in my parish community. . . .
“I’m also still trying to learn how to open myself more and more to the love and mercy of God our Father. Sincerely yours, Chris’’
That letter illustrates one of the points in today’s gospel:
The door to God’s kingdom is, indeed, narrow.
In the case of young Christopher, it seemed incredibly narrow.
But that didn’t stop him from trying to enter. He struggled and struggled until he did.
I wonder how many people would have had the courage to struggle as Christopher did.
Someone said there are three kinds of Christians: tugboat Christians, sailboat Christians, and raft Christians.
Tugboat Christians are people who follow Jesus not only in sunny weather but also in stormy weather.
They are people who follow Jesus not only when the wind
and the tide serve them but also when the wind and the tide oppose them.
They are people who go to Mass not because they have to but because Jesus said at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.” Luke 22:19
They are people who help other people not because they feel like it but because Jesus said, “Love one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12
In short, they are the kind of people that today’s readings exhort us to become.
Sailboat Christians, on the other hand, are people who follow Jesus when the wind and the tide serve them. But when the wind and the tide oppose them, they tend to go in the direction they are blown.
They are people who go to Mass when family and friends go.
But left to themselves, they often miss.
They are the people who ask, “How far can I go before I sin?’’ rather than “How much more can I do because I love?’’
In short, they are people who follow Jesus through the wide door but are reluctant to follow him through the narrow door.
They are people who tend to follow the crowd more than they follow the Gospel.
Finally, there are the raft Christians. They are Christians
in name only. They don’t really follow Jesus, even when the wind and the tide serve them. If they do go in his direction,
it’s only because someone pulls or pushes them.
They are people who do Christian things not because they want to but because they have to.
In short, they are Christians in name but not in deed.
This brings us back to today’s readings. The question they set before us is this: Are we a tugboat Christian, a sailboat Christian, or a raft Christian?
Are we tugboat Christians? Do we follow Jesus in good times and in bad? Do we go with him not only through the wide door but also through the narrow door?
Or are we sailboat Christians? Do we follow Jesus only in good times? Do we follow him only through the wide door?
Or are we raft Christians? Are we Christians in name only?
These are some of the questions today’s readings set before us.
No one can answer them for us. We must do that ourselves.
Today’s readings invite us to face up to these questions
with the same courage that Christopher displayed when
he faced up to his problems. If we do face up to them as
he did, we can be assured of receiving God’s help as he received it.
Let’s close by paraphrasing a poem by the English poet John Oxenham:
“To every person there opens a way: a high way, a middle way, and a low way.
“And the high soul takes the high way; and the low soul takes the low way; and in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
“But to every person there opens a way: a high way, a middle way, and a low way. And every person decides the way his soul shall go.’’
21st Sunday of the Year
Isaiah 66:18–21; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; Luke 13:22–30
The door to the kingdom is narrow, but only for those who are too “bundled up.’’
Emilie Griffin wrote a book called Turning. It describes how she graduated from college, doubting the existence of God and thinking that religion was a crutch that people turned to for support.
But Emilie also graduated with a deep love of nature. And it was this love of nature that eventually got her to rethink her ideas on God and religion.
Emilie read everything she could find on the subject of God and religion. She read, especially, the writings of C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton, who had struggled with questions
similar to hers.
To make a long story short, after much study and discussion,
she eventually entered the Catholic Church.
Emilie is a living example of what Jesus means in today’s gospel when he says that the door to God’s kingdom is narrow.
It is not narrow because God made it that way so that only a few people could pass through it.
Rather, it is narrow because we make it that way by our own doubts and deeds.
There’s a Peanuts cartoon that shows Charlie Brown getting up one morning and looking out the window.
It’s a lovely winter day. Snow covers the ground. It’s very cold, but perfect for skiing.
So Charlie bundles up with several layers of clothes. Then he puts on his big gloves and his skis.
When he moves toward the door, he discovers that he’s so bundled up that he can’t get through the door. So he stands there screaming at the top of his lungs.
The image of Charlie Brown standing in front of the door
too bundled up to pass through it is a good image of many of us today.
We want to follow Jesus. But we are so bundled up in material possessions and material concerns that we can’t get through the door.
So, like Charlie, we end up standing in front of the door and screaming.
And sometimes it’s not just our material possessions and concerns that keep us from passing through the door. Sometimes it’s the fear of what others may say or think.
One of the most famous photographs taken during World War II shows four marines planting the American flag on Mt. Surabachi on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific Ocean.
The famous photograph was taken just after the Marines
had driven the enemy from this strategic location on the mountain.
The photographer who took the picture braved mine
fields and machine-gun fire to record it. His name was
Joe was not a stranger to courage. He was a Jew who became convinced that Jesus was not only the promised Messiah
but also the very Son of God. He decided to become a Catholic.
His family and friends fought his decision. They thought he was making a mistake.
And so to do what he thought was right, Joe had to go against their wishes. He loved them deeply and so it was a painful task,
but he had to follow his own conscience.
When newspapers and magazines printed Joe’s prize-winning photo, everyone wanted to know more about the man who took the photograph. In an interview, Joe told a journalist:
“The day before we went ashore on Iwo Jima, I attended Mass and received Holy Communion.’’
Then referring to his conversion to Catholicism, he said:
“If a man is genuinely convinced he has the truth, and
still neglects it, he is a traitor, and that goes not only for my Jewish friends who fail to attend the synagogue each Saturday,
but also for my Catholic friends who miss Mass on Sunday.’’
And so sometimes the thing that keeps us from entering the door to God’s kingdom is not just material possessions and concerns, but also what others may say or think of us.
The story of Joe Rosenthal also illustrates a second big point that Jesus makes in today’s gospel. It illustrates what Jesus meant when he said, “Some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.’’
Joe did not begin life as a follower of Jesus, as many of us did.
In that sense, he was last and we were first.
But Joe’s discovery of Jesus and his dedication to him put him ahead of many people who were born with faith in Jesus. In that sense he who was last became first.
The stories of Emilie Griffin and Joe Rosenthal help us better appreciate the meaning of today’s gospel.
The door to the kingdom is narrow not because God deliberately made it so, but because we ourselves make it so.
We tend to get so wrapped up in material possessions
and concerns and in what others might think or say of
us that we cannot pass through it. So, like Charlie Brown,
we stand in front of the door, frustrated and mad.
As a result, many people who began last, like Emilie and Joe, end up first. And many of us who began first end up last.
This is the message of today’s gospel. This is the message that Jesus speaks to us in today’s liturgy.
It is a message that challenges us to ask ourselves, How willing are we to shed whatever is necessary to pass through the door to Jesus?
The door is open. It is wide enough to pass through but only for those who value Jesus more than anything else, including their possessions and what other people think.
21st Sunday of the Year
Isaiah 66:18–21; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; Luke 13:22–30
Don’t leave home without it.
Jesus said,] “Do your best to go in through the narrow door.” Luke 13:24
Years ago there was a popular movie called The Magnificent Ambersons.It still plays on TV film channels.
It centers around a family that enjoys wealth and prestige.
The leader of the clan is Major Amberson. He devotes his life to buying, selling, and banking. He is a man totally committed
to being successful in this world.
Toward the end of the movie a dramatic scene takes place.
Major Amberson is lying in bed, seriously ill.
Suddenly it dawns on him that he has only a short time to live.
His face is marked with concern. His eyes have the look of a man who is not at peace with himself.
The narrator of the movie says:
And now Major Amberson was engaged in the profoundest thinking of his life. He realized that everything he worried about
during his life was nothing compared to what he worries about now.
For Major Amberson knows that he must soon enter an unknown country where he is not even sure that he will
be recognized and treated as an Amberson. Slightly adapted
This brings us to today’s Gospel. It opens with Jesus teaching the people about the Kingdom of God.
In the midst of his teaching, someone interrupts Jesus and asks, “[W]ill just a few people be saved?” Luke 13:23 In other words, will just a few people enter the Kingdom of God when they die?
Jesus answers the question by telling a parable. He compares
the Kingdom of God to a house. He compares God to the owner of the house. He compares the end of the world to nightfall.
Jesus goes on to say that when darkness sets in, the owner of the house bolts the door to protect his family from intruders.
Jesus concludes, saying that once the door of the house is bolted anyone outside the house will remain outside. Nothing will persuade the owner to open the door. Jesus says:
“The master of the house will . . . close the door; then . . . you stand outside . . . and say, ‘Open the door . . . !’ [But] he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from!’ ” Luke 13:25
Jesus’ point is clear. He is stressing the urgency of entering the Kingdom of God while there is still time.
He is stressing the urgency of entering the Kingdom while the door to it is still open.
He is stressing the urgency of giving priority to the things of heaven while we still have time left on earth.
It was this priority that Major Amberson never got around to adopting. He became so busy with the things of earth that he forgot about the things of heaven.
And that’s what worried him as he lay dying.
Someone described Major Amberson’s fate this way:
When death’s cold hand touches yours . . . he will lead you
away from your investments . . . and your real estate.Then,
with him you will pass into eternity. . . . You will not be too
busy to die.
That brings us back to our gathering in this church.
Today’s Gospel reading invites us to do some serious thinking.
It invites us to consider if, perhaps, we are becoming like Major Amberson.
It invites us to consider if, perhaps, we are becoming so
Busy with the things of earth that our priority is no longer
the things of heaven.
If so, then someday we too may find ourselves like Major Amberson, lying ill on a bed, engaged in the profoundest thinking of our life.
Then we too will discover that our worries at that moment
will be far greater than anything we worried about in our lifetime.
For, like Major Amberson, we will soon be entering an unknown country where we will not be sure that we will
be recognized as a follower of Jesus.
The story of Major Amberson helps us better appreciate
the meaning of today’s Gospel.
It tells us the door to the Kingdom of God is narrow. It
is not narrow, however, because God made it so. Rather,
it is narrow because we ourselves make it so.
It is because we tend to get so wrapped up in the things of earth that we forget about the things of heaven as Major Amberson did.
As a result, many of us who are first in this world could end up last in the world to come.
This is Jesus’ word to us in today’s Gospel.
This is the challenge he sets before us in this liturgy. It is the challenge of asking ourselves this question:
How willing are we to make those changes in our life that
may be necessary to enable us to pass through the narrow door that leads to God’s Kingdom?
The door is open. It is wide enough to pass through but only if we give top priority to Jesus and his teaching.
Let us ask for the grace to put Jesus and his teaching
first in our lives.
Lord, bless us as we sit before you.
Bless our eyes with a vision of eternity that we may see
the brevity of this life.
Bless our minds with the light of your truth that we may know
the depth of your wisdom.
Bless our hearts with the fire of your word that we may appreciate it enough to give it top priority in our lives.