Mission Society of the Philippines


21st Sunday C

Lk 13:22-30

THERE IS A funny, yet didactic, story about salvation which goes like this. A “bad” priest who suddenly died was met by St Peter who holds the key to heaven. After reviewing the priest’s record, St Peter told the priest that he should go to hell. And off he went there. As soon as the door was opened, the priest saw some of his parishioners and in fact, he was welcomed by them in hell. The priest felt so embarrassed to have been with them. So he walked past them and walked further in order to look for a shady place where he could hide himself. And behold, when he found a place, he noticed that there was already a man who occupied it. That man turned out to be his bishop.


Indeed, this story is funny, but we could take some truths in it if we put it in the context of the gospel of today.


First, the gospel begins with a question raised by somebody in the crowd at Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” For those people who are serious in their Christian life, this is also a question that they would be asking. It has been clear to these people that, despite the objective redemption brought by Jesus through his passion, death, and resurrection, we nevertheless make this salvation as our own. This is what we call the “appropriation” of this salvation. It means that we must work for this salvation. We must be good so that we would be saved. But we have noticed that Jesus did not make a categorical answer to that question. It appears that it was a wrong question. In the end, salvation is grace. This plan of salvation initially came from the Father and it is the Father alone who exactly knows how many would be saved.


Secondly, for Jesus, the real question should not be “How many would be saved?” but rather, “How can salvation be attained?” With this question, Jesus gave us a clear answer. He said, “Strive to enter through a narrow gate, for many, I tell you will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Thus, salvation does not come cheap. It should be hard-earned. This is a reminder for people who presumed too much. Presumption is a sin against the virtue of hope. There are people who would philosophically say, “Anyway, God is good and he wills everyone to be saved. So why work for salvation when we are already assured of it?” But in the words of Jesus, we learn that the road to salvation is not that easy. Fidelity to God and his teachings is not easy. We cannot afford to remain complacent. We need to work on it and we need to be strong enough to persevere in our drive toward attaining salvation.


Thirdly, our affiliation cannot be a guarantee of salvation. In the parable we heard that many would say to the master of the house, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” But the master would reply, “Depart from me all you evildoers.” Let us take note of the keywords: ate, drank, taught. The celebration of the Eucharist can have those elements of “eating”, “drinking” and “teaching”. We listen to the Word of God, and we partake of the body and blood of Christ during the celebration of the Holy Mass. In other words, we may say that we have affinity with Jesus the Master because we come to the celebration of the holy Eucharist. But this would not count if, in life, we are evildoers. So it appears that the real guarantee to salvation is the quality of our moral life. I mean, the way how we live our life. Thus, there is now some truth in that story of a priest and a bishop. St Peter looked at the way how they lived their life. Their being a priest and a bishop are not a guarantee. What guarantees is the good and moral life.


Finally, we must be reminded that salvation is both a freedom and a gift. On the one hand, we need to work on it. As Jesus would say, we should strive to enter a narrow gate. But on the other hand, we need also to consider that salvation is, in the final analysis, is God’s gratuitous gift for us.


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