From time to time, I hear complaints about All Saints. I know, you’re probably shocked by that fact. Among the complaints I hear, the most interesting to me are the ones that result from incorrect information or faulty assumptions. Examples of these complaints are, for instance, that the Sunday Mass times have changed suddenly and without explanation, or that the church doors were locked during regular office hours, or that a registered parishioner was refused the opportunity to schedule a funeral for a loved one. When I hear these sorts of complaints, I recognize immediately the circumstances that led to the complaint.
All Saints Catholic Church is not the only All Saints. There is an All Saints Episcopalian Church a few miles from here and an All Saints Lutheran Church a few more miles away. If you’re not careful about your telephone Directory Assistance inquiries or your google searches for the parish website you might be directed to an All Saints other than the Catholic All Saints. In that case, you might go unrecognized as a parishioner, or get incorrect Mass time information, or something similar.
Getting the right information depends on directing the right question to the right person. Asking a poorly formulated question, or looking for information in the wrong place, can lead to disappointing and confusing results. For that reason, Jesus provides accurate information in today’s Gospel reading about how to enter God’s Reign.
In today’s Gospel reading, someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” (Lk. 13:23) He responded, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Lk. 13:24) Then, he told a short parable about unwelcome visitors being refused entry to a man’s house. The unwelcome visitors in the parable are unceremoniously excused by the householder who said, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” (Lk. 13:27)
I’m guessing that this is how the people who called the wrong All Saints felt they were treated. Their hurt feelings were, of course, the result of looking in the wrong place for All Saints Catholic Church. Those who pursue the wrong kinds of religious questions might receive similar treatment.
Jesus concludes the parable about being granted admittance to God’s Reign by saying, “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Lk. 13:30) This is accurate and reliable information about admittance to God’s Reign; Jesus provides it for our benefit and in order that we don’t find ourselves surprised, confused, or resentful as the result of our own misunderstanding.
The correct information about how to be granted admittance to God’s Reign is “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Lk. 13:30) This means that Jesus and his teachings must be first on our list of priorities and that our personal concerns must be lower down on the list. Jesus is the leader and we are the followers. For most people, this takes some getting-used-to. In order that we might be followers of Jesus rather than leaders of our own lives, we must learn to ask what God would have us do rather than asking what we would have God do for us.
The question posed to Jesus in today’s Gospel is an example of a wrong question to ask. When asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” (Lk. 13:23), Jesus responded, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Lk. 13:24) The correct question about eternal salvation is not about how many people will receive it; the correct question about eternal life is about what one should do today in order to follow Jesus on his path to the Cross and Resurrection.
Following Jesus requires one to learn Jesus’ teaching and then to learn how to put that teaching into practice in the details of one’s daily activities. Ignatius of Loyola offered simple, but brilliant advice about how to do this. Ignatius said that, in every choice one makes, one should choose the course of action that gives greater glory to God.
Worrying, or even wondering, about who will be saved is a pointless exercise. God alone grants salvation and God does so without consultation. There is no correct answer to the question of how many will be saved; the only correct answer available to us is about how to bring greater glory to God. Those who wish to enter through the “narrow gate” find that they are already doing so when they do what God wants rather than wanting God to grant what they desire for themselves.