21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Who of us, given the opportunity, would not choose a less stressful job or academic load, less stressful friendships and relationships, and ultimately a less stressful life? Modern technology is forever trying to make our lives more comfortable, more convenient, more productive. But sometimes that effort can actually complicate matters. Take for instance, the proliferation of digital technology; in particular, the increase of use and availability of cell phones. I’m not against using them. I own one. But when you own a cell phone you think you control who calls and when they call, but you don’t. You can ignore it when it rings, but most cell phones train their owners before their owners are even aware of it. And by then it’s too late. Through these devices, we now have access to people in ways we previously did not. We can stay in touch with those we do not see often, as well as those who are far away. It is easier to call for help in time of emergency, and the pace of information and commerce is dramatically increased. But this same digital technology can be quite a distraction for drivers on our roads and highways. It can get in the way of our concentration and focus when dealing with an important task at hand. Since access is also instantaneous and inexpensive, it can be easily abused, and it often is. Who of us has not heard a cell phone ring in the most unlikely places, in theatres, in restaurants, in churches? Until laws were passed to curb the abuse of cell phone cameras, almost nothing was off limits. And since the advent of the dumpster fire that is Twitter, we will never recover our lost innocence and life will never be the same again. So while digital technology brings many benefits we are aware that it also adds an unprecedented level of stress.

And not meaning to add more stress on anyone, does the subject of your eternal salvation keep you up at night? Do you worry about getting into heaven? Are you afraid there might be limited seating at the eternal wedding banquet? Literal readers of the book of Revelation will tell us only 144,000 will be saved. My concern is, why do they keep recruiting? Doesn’t that lessen their chances of getting in? Should we need to be aware of any eligibility requirements? How about any disqualifications? Is all this important information written down somewhere, you may ask? Is it necessary to get started on this task early? Can we catch up if we have not been attentive in the past? Can we adequately make up for lost time? What about our responsibility to undo the evils we have done? Can we attain any assurance for ourselves of a place in heaven similar to making dinner and theatre reservations or purchasing airline tickets online?

Many religious leaders, preachers, and philosophers have shared their opinions on the subject. Some have been quite powerful, some reassuring, some disturbing. And some have even attempted to simplify things for their listeners. Once a young man approached Jesus with the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus directed him to the Law of Moses: “Do not steal; do not commit adultery; do not kill; do not covet your neighbor’s property; honor your father and mother. Do this and you will live.” The young man asked him if there was anything more since he already observed these commandments. Jesus instructed him to sell all he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him. These instructions were detailed and specific beyond doubt. Yet many of us would have probably done as that young man did. He walked away, unable to meet the challenge.

To complicate matters, Jesus would elaborate on the commandments in the sermon on the mount. “You have heard it said, you shall not kill, and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” “You have heard it said, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna” “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” “You have heard it said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Check it out, Matthew Chapter 5. It doesn’t seem Jesus was at all interested in making our life easier. He tells us we should be doing more than what the commandments tell us. Then in today’s gospel reading he tells us to “enter through the narrow gate.”

It is not news. Christian discipleship is not a life of ease. It is one of sacrifice and struggle. That narrow gate through which Jesus calls us to enter is a symbol of the cross. It is with the cross that he conquered sin and death, gaining for us eternal life. It is through the cross that we ourselves must pass to arrive at resurrection and new life. It is not enough that we know Jesus and everything about him so we can use this information when we arrive at the gates of heaven. “Lord, open the door for us. We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” His reply would come as a shock, “I do not know where you are from.” It is important that we know and follow the commandments, but that is not enough. The narrow gate points us in the direction of sacrifice and struggle. Although the bible seems quite clear and specific, Jesus challenges us to a life over and above what is required. He calls us to a level of excellence not subject to human measure. Which then brings us back to the question of salvation. If even Jesus does not give guarantees, only that we would face trial and hardship with faith and perseverance, worrying about our salvation just causes more stress. I like to remind people that God alone brings about our salvation. We do not determine the cross we carry, nor who gets into heaven. And incidentally, there are still some who look down their noses upon those who are not as religiously observant as they are. “We who follow Jesus deserve better than those who don’t,” which sounds a lot like “we ate and drank in your company.” You know what Jesus said to that.

So, we need not stress too much about getting into heaven. Putting it simply, live as Jesus taught, imitate his example of service, don’t take yourself too seriously, be thankful always, and know that God will recognize you by how you conducted yourself in life, what you stood for, and how you treated your neighbor. There are few things in life that we can actually control, not the weather, not what other people say or do, not even who we choose to love. Put your time and energy into the people and the things that matter. And do all you can so when you come face to face with God, you might hear him tell you, “I know exactly who you are. I’ve seen how you lived. And I can tell you are without question one of mine.”

Rolo B Castillo © 2019