We Have One Job

4 kids

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was growing up, dad was not our friend. Nor was mom, for that matter. They were our parents, and they behaved accordingly. Today they might pass for ruthless dictators and tyrants. But it was a different time. They treated us with fairness and respect, but never felt the need to win our approval. They were never obligated to ask our opinion or preference, unless it involved clothing, shoes, household chores, or dessert. We were never consulted about what to have for dinner. We ate what was set before us. So we got to try many different kinds of vegetables, and liver, and tripe, and pork blood stew. (It’s the most accurate English translation I could find for “dinuguuan.”) Now that mom and dad no longer prepare my meals, I can genuinely say I like some vegetables. But I don’t ever eat liver or tripe again. The pork blood stew, I love. Every so often we contributed our two cents in the matter of the birthday dinner. Still, they never went out of their way to be our friends. They were the grown-ups, and we were the children. We never had family meetings. When they made decisions, they simply informed us who was going where, and who was doing what. There were no public debates, no politicking, no referendums, and no second-guessing. We were just expected to get on board, no questions asked. We might have complained a bit, but there would be no abstentions, no dissension, no tantrums, and no sulking. No one was disowned, sent into exile or hard labor, tortured, executed, or excommunicated. We also never questioned their judgment, their motives, or their unconditional care for us. And now that my siblings and I are adults, we are grateful to have been granted a childhood, and do not ever regret we took our time to grow up. There may have been a couple of occasions when I thought my parents were getting soft with the younger siblings, allowing them to slack. But I was not a parent, so I didn’t get a vote.

discipline-your-children-correctly1

We welcome being called children of God, and calling God our Father. But we are not always as welcoming of our role in that dynamic. God is not our equal. We can question God or entertain doubt. We can even raise our voices in anger, and frustration at God—not to worry, I’m sure God can handle it. But if we know God, we would never think God would allow us to come to harm. Whenever that passage from the letter to the Hebrews is proclaimed, about God disciplining his sons and daughters as he sees fit, it is not an attempt to justify the evils that befall us. When my parents warned me not to play around the hornet’s nest, they were not being mean. And when I got stung, it was not because they intended my harm. We were taught as children that God created all things, and that everything that happens is God’s will. So it followed by our thinking that when bad things happen, God must have willed it. God is punishing us.

So after careful reflection, I have concluded that bad things happen for a number of reasons, none of which because God is punishing us. Bad things happen when we make bad choices, or when other people make bad choices. The laws of nature don’t often allow exceptions, so gravity and inertia will usually work. Fires will burn, and flood waters will wash everything away. And lions, tigers, and bears will have to eat something to stay alive. And everyone eventually experiences pain, breaks down, gets sick, and dies. And evil is real because forces exist that resist God and God’s life.

mountain climber

But for the most part, the challenges we face daily are meant to help us learn, and grow, and mature, and accomplish great things. They give us opportunities to discover the good in us, our own skills and strengths, stretching us beyond our comfort zone, expanding our perspective, helping us to see the good in others, to share in their success, to assist them in their need, to work alongside them toward common goals, to inspire the hesitant to join in, to improve on the world around us, and to leave it in better shape than we found it. And like athletes training for the Olympics, we will come upon obstacles to overcome, areas of weakness and mediocrity to strengthen, and immaturity to outgrow. We are aware that none of this ever comes easy. We do not become the best at anything without our best effort. So why should we expect any less in the pursuit of the highest good—a place in the everlasting Kingdom of God?

Jesus reminds us that the gate is narrow that leads to life. “Many … will attempt to enter it but will not be strong enough.” Our failure to achieve a place among the blessed of God is not because God will only take so many. It is not a numbers game. Even the 144,000 we read about in the book of Revelation is only a symbol of the “multitude that no one can count from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue [who will stand] before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and bearing palm branches in their hands.” So the question posed to Jesus—Will only a few people be saved?—doesn’t even reflect Jesus’ urgency. It should be a far greater concern for us to get through that narrow gate, because no one but ourselves is to blame if we fail.

Colorfull-Crowd

And Jesus lays it out for us in greater detail. It is not enough for us to go through the motions of Christian discipleship—coming to church, quoting the Bible chapter and verse, putting money in the collection, praying certain prayers, spending so much time on our knees. That narrow gate that leads to life represents the ultimate struggle we must face to overcome our pride, our arrogance, and our self-righteousness. It stands for our willingness to be transformed constantly into daughters and sons after God’s own heart, perfect as God is perfect—faithful, humble, clean of heart, just, welcoming, compassionate, patient, forgiving, truthful, generous, kind, chaste, self-controlled. Any hindrance to grace which is the life of God within us, must be purged. There can be no room for a half-hearted or reluctant discipleship. Pushing open the narrow gate that leads to life will take greater effort than getting to the Summer Olympics, or getting to the university of your choice, or winning a presidential election. But there is no limit to the number of those who will enter into life. Be less concerned about your neighbor’s success, because their success is their primary concern as your success is your primary concern. And if you would not see your neighbor fail, you had better not fail either, or all your effort would be a complete and total waste.

My parents can claim success in raising their children if my siblings and I turn out to be confident, mature, and productive citizens, and faithful members of the Body of Christ. It’s a tall order. But truly, their task is done. The rest is up to us. I can’t say whether or not we’re there yet. Some will struggle more than others. Some will even slack. But we all have our work cut out. The gate that leads to life is narrow, and “many … will attempt to enter it but will not be strong enough.” You and I … we have one job. Don’t mess it up.

narrow gate

Rolo B Castillo © 2016