Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Only a few?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Sept. 9, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Some of the questions that come out of our mouths give more evidence about our frame of mind than the information they seem to seek. For example, how many hungry children plead with mom or dad five minutes after coming home from school, “When’s supper going to be ready?” Or how often have adults heard the bored tag-along child drag out a “When are we going home?” Or, how many folks just this past summer heard (less than an hour into the family vacation) the proverbial whining query from the back seat, “Are we there yet?”
All of these questions are exasperating for anyone who happens to be the object of their pestering barbs. They cannot be answered as forthright questions because they do not seek information. They are pleadings that rumble out of a pained heart.
Perhaps it may be comforting to know that even Jesus himself was not spared this experience. There was that day when he and his disciples were making their way to Jerusalem and someone from the crowd piped up with the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” (The question needs to be heard with that ear-piercing whine that makes you wince and grit your teeth.)
This query is made of Jesus after he already has spent some fair amount of time teaching his followers many of the demands of the Gospel. Not once has he intimated that the way to life in God’s Kingdom is going to be easy. Quite the contrary: He is very much up front and even blunt about the challenges of discipleship. They come with almost every paragraph of the Gospel: Love your enemies. Be forgiving. Take up your cross daily. Stop judging. Etc. Etc.
No wonder the nameless voice from the crowd (and, therefore, it could be any one of us) pipes up, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” This is not the question it first appears to be. Rather, it’s a question that rises from a pressured heart. If all those demands of a Gospel-driven life are to be taken seriously, then indeed how many will be able to measure up to its ideal? Is there no room for slack?
The pleading question (ours) seems to expect Jesus to come to his senses, as it were, and lighten the load. Perhaps he should offer a set of more achievable compromises like “Love your enemies on Tuesday afternoons. Take time to pray only if there is nothing else to do. Reserve those acts of self-denial for the days of Advent and Lent. Do a good deed for someone the fourth Friday of the month.Be forgiving only if your peers approve.” To hear such instruction from the mouth of Jesus would be foreign indeed.
In this particular Gospel scene Jesus offers no compromise at all. In fact, he tightens his hold on the hearts of his disciples. His demand gets personal as he addresses the nameless voice from the crowd (us): “You (yes, you – not “people” or “they”” – you keep trying to enter by the narrow gate.” And then, making the point even more uncomfortable, Jesus seasons his demand with an equally powerful image. He describes the faithless man or woman who, coasting on their journey, knocks on the master’s door at the end of the day, expecting to gain immediate entrance. The master responds with a shocking, “Depart from me; I don’t know where you are from.” And despite the defensive pleading (paraphrased: “Hey, what’s the matter here!? We had dinner with you!We read your books and watched you on TV!”) the master even identifies the stranger as an “evil-doer.”
The rejection comes not because of lack of success in following the demands of the Gospel, but as a self-chosen lack of faithfulness to a life-giving relationship. The master of the house does not read a score card, but finds no personal relationship. It clearly is not sufficient to relate third-hand to the master with impersonal, non-committed and presumed familiarity.
At times in our own walk with Jesus we may reach a point of exasperation in which we want to know if success is at all possible. The journey may seem like too much to handle. The going gets tough and the demands and sacrifices are just too great. It appears that every time we turn around we are pressed to greater and greater purification and perfection. Why can’t we just set ourselves on some kind of spiritual cruise control and coast along?
The walk of discipleship is not cheap or without its pressure. Like all human growth toward excellence, Christian discipleship takes persistent attention and work. The popular phrase “No pain; no gain” applies to discipleship as much as it does to our efforts in sports, body-building and dieting.
Like any personal relationship, the core of discipleship is a relationship of love. True love sacrifices any and all things for the beloved. If our love is the mere fulfillment of increasingly overwhelming rules and regulations, it falters and knows only the pain of impersonal expectation and demand.
Jesus does not merely call his disciples to obedience. Rather, He leads us into a loving and truly life-giving personal relationship. He knows where that kind of disciple “comes from.” He lauds the good they do and praises the good man, woman or child they are.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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