Meditation of the Most Rev. Pizzaballa for Sunday, August 21
August 21, 2016
XXI Ordinary Time, Year C
The evangelist Luke reminds us, at the beginning of today’s Gospel passage, that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.
He has already informed us of this (Lk 9:51), and the fact that he repeats it here is not by chance: by doing it, he introduces the second part of Jesus’ journey, a section where Jesus will recount many parables and direct to his disciples a urgent invitation to enter the Kingdom.
This second part of the journey is marked by a frequent call to the reasoning that animates the mystery of the Kingdom of God, a logic that we could describe as “reversed”, that involves a total overturning of values, thoughts and perspective.
So, along the way, we will hear that the first will be last (Lk 13:30), that whoever exalts himself will be humbled (Lk 13:30), that in heaven there is more joy that one sinner repents than that ninety-nine just sinners who have no need to repent (Lk 15:7), and so on…
And it cannot be otherwise for a journey that leads them where all will be reversed: in Jerusalem the righteous will be treated like a criminal, the thief will enter the Kingdom first, death will be defeated and from it Life will arise…
Today’s passage is emblematic of this reversal.
First Jesus reverses the question: a man asks him, are there many that will be saved, and He responds by saying that the way is narrow. That is, the question pertains to the home, and the answer relates to the door.
Jesus seems to say that the question is not how many, it is the large home, how many people it can hold (and in fact it will be discussed later that he will gather an infinite multitude of people, who will come from all parts): in the house there is room for everyone.
The problem is instead to find the way, because the door is narrow.
It is interesting that this adjective, narrow (in Greek, “stenós”), appears here for the only time in Luke: this door is the only narrow thing present in the Gospel. In this year of mercy, we are accustomed to seeing many in our Jubilee churches, many large, spacious, open, beautiful welcoming doors… Instead, Jesus tells us that the door of the Kingdom is narrow. Why?
From the words of those who remain outside, of those who do not succeed to enter through the narrow door (“We ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets”, Lk 13:26), it seems that the door is too small only for those who think they have the right to enter; for he who, at the entrance, believes he can enter by presenting his credentials, those good works that would merit a pass…
The door is narrow for the one who thinks that the home is small, for the one who is convinced that inside there is room only for one like him, the one who has done everything necessary to enter there, and he deserves it.
It brings to mind the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Lk 18:1 – 14) – a parable that will also end with a reversal: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted”, where the Pharisee makes the list of all his good works: here is one for whom the door is narrow…
What does the master of the house reply to those people?
The first is: “I do not know where you are from,”(Lk 13:25), that is: I do not know you.
Who thinks he can get on its own merit has not known the Lord – and is not known by Him – because he has before his eyes only his own good works, like the Pharisee in the parable.
He knows the Lord who has experienced His forgiveness, who has met him in the depths of their misery, those who recognize the greatness of his mercy, those who know that salvation alone is free; and then he is left somehow “overturned”, he has “learned” the upside down logic of the Kingdom.
They know that the house is great, that no one by himself can deserve to get in, but that all are admitted free of charge by the grace of Christ’s cross.
Changing logic, letting oneself be overturned, is not easy. Accepting that salvation is free is indeed something “narrow”, because we would prefer by far to deserve it: if we deserved, if there was due, we would have no debt and we would not be required to share anything with anyone.
Getting out of this narrow passage is the only real big effort to make, the real battle, the one against our pride.
Then he calls them “evildoers”(Lk 13,27). It is strange that he calls them so, because the fact is they have not done anything wrong.
Actually, he is wrong who has a distorted perception of justice, who attributes it to his own merits, and then refuses to be justified.
It is this presumption, usually, that closes his eyes and heart to his brother that locks himself in his “injustice”. But through the narrow door one cannot enter if he is not at one with his brothers, all equally unjust and all equally forgiven.
We have just celebrated the feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven: it is the perfect synthesis of what we have said.
The Mother of God recognizes her own insignificance, allows herself be filled with grace, entrusts herself to the Father with whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:26-38), and sings in a unique way the upside-down logic of the Kingdom: the Lord has put down the mighty from their thrones; he has lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, sent the rich away empty (Lk 1:46 – 55)…
And so for her the door is spacious and open.