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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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21st Sunday in ordinary time

Father Karl Esker, C.Ss.R.

Welcome to the Good Word, a reflection on the readings of the daily liturgy. I am Father Karl Esker, a Redemptorist priest.

God’s love and mercy are beyond our comprehension. We human beings are often too closed minded and closed hearted to enter into the expansive love that is God.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah proclaims that all the nations will come with the people of Israel to bring their offerings to the Lord. However, the voice of the prophet seems to have been drowned out because by the time of Jesus, foreigners were not allowed in the Temple and Jesus himself had a difficult time expanding the popular view of who belonged to God’s people.

In the letter to the Hebrews the preacher tells his people that God treats them all as his beloved children. And if they suffer trials, they should joyfully persevere because it serves to strengthen their resolve and to bring them the peaceful fruit of righteousness. We don’t know how the community received his message because it seemed to be losing its original fervor. Still, we know that the Christian communities continued to grow throughout the world.

In the Gospel Jesus exults that “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.” Even so, there will be some who find themselves shut out of the banquet. This was in response to a question: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” The questioner obviously thought that he was in a privileged position, and Jesus quickly deflates his ego. No one gets a free pass into heaven; it is for those who “strive to enter through the narrow gate,” in other words, those who try to follow Jesus with all their hearts because Jesus is the gate and the only sure way to the Father. Jesus will not recognize those who have not imitated his way, even if they ate and drank in his company and listened to his preaching.

Luke uses this parable to remind his community that belonging to Jesus Christ means more than frequenting the table fellowship of the Eucharist and listening to the apostolic preaching. They must also imitate Jesus’ way of caring for the poor and marginalized. They must look beyond the bounds of their own particular group and bring in brothers and sister from afar through the sharing of God’s grace and the goods he has bestowed on them.

This is a difficult message even for us today, when our society encourages us to bond into groups that think and look alike and demonizes anyone who is different. Even in the Church there are influential groups demanding purity over reconciliation. This all runs contrary to our Scripture readings today.

It is not enough to hang a crucifix in our house. It is not enough to be baptized, to have made our First Communion and confirmation and go to Mass every Sunday to become a real follower of Jesus Christ. We must clear our minds to put on the mind of Jesus and open our hearts and hands to become instruments of God’s love and mercy and reconciliation in a divided world. Jesus is the narrow gate, the only sure gate to the kingdom of God. Let us take to heart the words of the letter to the Hebrews: “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”

May God bless you.