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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

I have found an interesting joke about how each faith answers Jesus’ question after death. A Buddhist, a Jew, and a Christian all die and get to heaven. Jesus asks each one, “If you could go back, what would you change?” The Buddhist ponders a while and says, “There is so much violence in the world. If I went back, I’d try and stop people from going to war with each other.” The Jew thinks a bit and says, “There is so much poverty in the world. If I went back, I’d try and get people to share more of their wealth with the poor.” The Christian looks at Jesus and quickly replies, “If I went back, I’d change my doctor.”

When it comes to religious faith, salvation has, rightly, always been the big issue. Who is going to be saved, how is it going to happen, and when will Christ return in glory? These questions have captured the imagination of each generation of believers. In today’s Gospel someone also asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” This issue has drawn people’s attention throughout history. Who is going to be accepted in God’s Kingdom and who is not? In other words, who is going to be inside and who is going to be outside?

Today’s Gospel pictures Jesus in a discussion about who is on the inside and who will stand outside weeping and grinding their teeth. “The master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’” The Master draws the line between the insiders and the outsiders. This parable tells us that the insiders are chosen and saved, and the outsiders are left without the eternal union with God.

There is the same issue hidden behind the beautiful prophecy that the prophet Isaiah sings in today’s first reading. The Third Isaiah, which is today’s first reading, was written when the Israelites were in the Babylonian Exile (BC 586-516). The Israelites were captured for about 70 years in a foreign land. They were looking forward to going home and settling in. After the destruction of Babylon, a Persian King, Cyrus’ decree freed them from slavery and allowed them to return to their land. But there was a conflict between the home comers who were once captives and the ones who were remnants in the Promised Land. As the captives came home, they were treated as outsiders. The remnants regarded themselves as insiders. And the salvation issue came out. Who was going to be the authentic and pure descendants of Israel for salvation?

But the prophet Isaiah brings great news to all the Israelites singing the great joy of the deliverance whether they are insiders or outsiders. As long as they gather on God’s mountain, they are delivered. But the prophet reveals more. The good news spreads further. The prophet is prophesying not only the return of the Israelites but also the gathering of all nations. “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord.” He is breaking the boundary and border between outsides and insiders. He is broadening the line beyond the nations. This is basically the Good News. The prophet’s inclusive and all embracing message is echoing Jesus’ declaration in today’s Gospel. “People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” People who are once outsiders will join God’s table as insiders, and enjoy the heavenly banquet. This is also the Good News to everyone.

But a question remains. How do we become insiders? In the Ancient Middle East, the easiest and fastest way to become insiders was to be born in a group, a nation, or a community. It is partly true today. I am not an insider of the US because I was not born here. Those who were born in the community were accepted as insiders. What if you were born outside and wanted to become an insider? You would have to apply for a visa. Right? But in the ancient Jewish society, you were able to be insiders by the exchange of food or eating together. Friendships were sealed and strangers were integrated into the community by sharing a common meal. That is why the people standing outside the door shout in today’s Gospel, “we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” They express their intimacy and commonality with the Master to become insiders by proving that they have once eaten and drunk together. But they are denied.

Why are they denied? Who is not going to be saved? What should we do to become insiders? Jesus answers this question. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” What does this mean? This answer is in today’s second reading. The author of Hebrews says that we need to endure our trials and take them as discipline because this will bring good fruits of righteousness in the end. This is how we take the narrow gate. This is not an easy, comfortable, or smooth way but brings us glorious and splendid results. Therefore, let us willingly take God’s discipline, the narrow gate. Let us joyfully take our life issues and difficulties as the preparation of the delightful heavenly banquet. And then salvation will be given to us by the Master because Jesus is merciful and compassionate.

One more thing we have to remember at this point. As we go through the narrow gate, we have to keep in mind that drawing the line between insiders and outsiders is not our job. It is the Master who decides who are insiders and outsiders. Inviting people to God’s banquet is our job. We are supposed to open ourselves to outsiders and strangers and reach out to them and invite them to God’s Kingdom. We need to shout with joy that God’s table is ready for everyone. Today we also come to God’s table to receive the strength and courage to get over some of the ordeals of life. The body and blood of Christ we receive today is the presence of the eternal food we will enjoy in God’s kingdom. This is what enables us to walk through the narrow gate and invite outsiders from the world to participate in the joy and happiness of eternal banquet and complete the mission. Let us give thanks to God and keep up with our mission until we sing together and recline at the table in God’s Kingdom.

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