Daily Reflection
August 26th, 2001
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Isaiah 66:18-21
Psalms 117:1, 2
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30

Every fall at our high school here in Omaha, a quite human celebration takes place when the first-year boys show up for their first day of football practice.  To be more honest, the real celebration of the human condition is the second day of running and blocking in the high-heat of late August when one third of the first-day’s hopefuls have decided that hitting the books harder might be less painful than getting hit themselves.  They decide to exclude themselves from further pursuit of worldly glory on the athletic field.

The readings today have this same kind of theme in them.  Who is on the team and who has decided that God’s glory is not for them?  Isaiah is concluding his prophecies with one more description of the Messiah and His mission.  The “deeds” and “thoughts,” which the prophet declares God to know, are those of the non-Jewish people who gain their holiness by unholy practices of eating pigs, snakes and rats.  The mission of the Messiah will be to send out “fugitives” to the far-off nations and bring them all into Jerusalem and the relationship with the One God.  All will be included that the glory of God may be seen throughout the world.  The invitation will be sent to become one people of God.      

In the first year, at our school, no player is cut or dismissed from the football team.  Those wishing to practice and persevere remain as team members and the others simply subtract themselves with no hard feelings, except perhaps, to their egos.  Some might ask the coach, “will only the big guys make the team?”   

In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues His teaching-journey towards Jerusalem.  Somebody asks Him if only a few will be saved, this is, make the holy roster.  Jesus encourages His listeners to stay with the program which is all His teachings.  Those who persevere will be strong enough to make it through the narrow gate.

These teachings of Jesus are healthy for humanity to live just as doing strenuous physical exercise is good for the human body.  The “narrow gate” is the conforming of that which is human to the divine encouragements of His teachings.  This can seem as repugnant as running, blocking and tackling.

At the end of the season, the coaches, players and parents have a dinner to celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of the team.  Jesus uses such an image of the end-times.  Often in the Hebrew Scriptures, a feast or dinner is a figure for salvation.  Those who have labored include themselves and those who have turned away exclude themselves.  

Some lads who dropped away early in the hard and hot days of practice might want to attend the season-ending party and might feel they are being excluded.  In fact, they chose not to be there at the end.  

The Gospel ends with a dramatic and hard-to-hear paradox.  Those who think they are first in God’s company will be last and those who are last to come into God’s company will be first.  Jesus is criticizing directly those Jewish leaders who do not feel they have to practice, but are automatically included.  The narrow gate is the hearing and living of His encouragements on into the Kingdom.

Jesus, the Messiah, the Inviter, the Coach, cannot send any of His sisters or brothers away.  He came to call us from all four directions into one direction and that is towards Jerusalem.  We can find struggles believing and living His ways.  As with the young footballers, blocking our temptations to give up and tackling the challenges of faith, hope, and love take practice and patience.  All are called, all are sought for by God’s love and all are meant to see the glory of God in the Kingdom.  The Lord and Master does know us and from where we come, His love and our earthiness.

“Praise the Lord, all you nations; glorify Him, all you peoples!”  Psalms 117 


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