Sometimes I wish Jesus would stop talking in riddles and just tell it to us plain. ‘many are called but few are chosen’…. ‘use the narrow gate’…. What are we supposed to do with THAT?
The good part about this kind of language is that it forces us to think. If I told you 2 + 2 = 4, you all recognize that as a true statement and don’t give it another thought, do you. When we recognize – or at least when we THINK we recognize truth – we let it go in one ear and out the other. But when we’re faced with something that doesn’t immediately seem like it makes sense, we are forced to think about it.
Well – I don’t think Jesus wants His teachings to go in one ear and out the other – they’re MEANT to challenge us. “use the narrow gate”, he says– what’s he mean? Probably the most common interpretation is that in order to get to heaven, you have to follow this strict code of conduct…do X, Y, and Z and you’ll get there. If you were a Pharisee, you’d LIKE this interpretation, because it matches what you already believe.
He may have meant something completely different than that. What if I said that we could all get $1000 credit on our taxes if you call this phone number before noon tomorrow? We’d all jump to it! $1000 is a lot of money…in fact some of us would be on the phone before we got out of the parking lot after Mass. We wouldn’t want to miss this narrow window of opportunity? Maybe that’s what Jesus is saying – the narrow gate is actually a narrow window of opportunity. We only have a certain number of years on this earth to grow in Love, to experience the Kingdom of God here on earth, so we need to be striving with all our effort to experience it.
Instead of being a recipe for how to get to heaven, I think it’s a guideline for how we, as disciples, are supposed to live…with a sense of urgency. How we are to experience the greater joys of THIS life? …By being disciples. The word ‘Disciple’ comes from the word ‘discipline’ – and we heard a lot about that word in our 2nd reading. God disciplines those He loves. But we don’t like discipline – especially in our culture where we want to do what we want, when we want, as much as we want. I even remember a guy telling me once, ‘I hate anybody who tells me what I can and can’t do!’. I see that as the epitome of our culture – we despise discipline. In reality, discipline is exactly what we need to be a disciple…by definition, a disciple is somebody who takes on the discipline of somebody they want to be like. For example, maybe I wanted to be a disciple of Payton Manning..you know, the quarterback for the Colts. What if I go to every one of his games and sit in the bleachers on the 50-yard-line….would that make me a disciple?! No way…If I were really a disciple, I’d wear a football uniform. Go to practice every day. Watch what I eat. Exercise and weight train every day – and study the playbooks every evening. I would do everything I possibly could be try to be exactly like Payton.
Are we true disciples of Jesus if we come to church every week and sit on the 50-yard-line? Not really….look what happened to the people in the Gospel: they went to the gate and said, ‘master, let us in’? but he said, “I don’t know you”. But, but, but…we ate and drank with you…in other words, ‘we went to Mass with you’! But again he said I don’t know who you are. Being a disciple is more than sitting in a pew each Sunday. As disciples of Jesus – we are taking on the discipline of Jesus – we read His words, we receive Him in the Sacraments, we talk to him in prayer, and we follow the commands He gave us….why? So we can be like Him….Because we believe that He showed us the greatest path to true happiness by how he lived – and how he died.
You may remember one of the CD’s we passed out this spring from Matthew Kelly, called “A Call to Joy”. It’s possibly my favorite CD: it starts a little slow, but he explains some about how his spiritual life got started…and in this story, you and I can pick up some concrete, manageable ways to add some discipline to our own lives. A friend of his challenged him to stop at church for just 5-10 minutes on the way to school…5-10 minutes – that’s all. Well, he reluctantly started doing it – and developed a habit. Looking back 6 months later, he wondered how he’d ever gotten by without it…and his friend challenged him to take another step. That’s something every one of us can do – 5-10 minutes – on our way to work or school or on the way home….and once that becomes a habit, we can look back and see how God has helped us to grow because of this little discipline.
Discipline – it’s something we all need. It’s as simple as developing habits so that we’ll integrate our relationship with Jesus into our everyday lives. For example, a month ago, I got a phone call to help out on a retreat – something I LOVE to do – but I recognized there were some good reasons that maybe I should not say Yes this time…so I hem-hawed around for a couple of days. Then, Mary asked me, ‘Did you pray about it?’. Now, you would THINK that as a Deacon, I would just naturally have prayed about that decision…but I hadn’t! I had prayed, but for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me to take THAT decision to God – so I did, and I’m not kidding you - within 30 minutes I had my answer.
My point for saying that I’m hoping we can all relate to this. I recognized my own need to develop the discipline to pray about EVERY decision, so that when the big decisions come along, I will just automatically take it to God without even thinking about it. The more good spiritual habits we form, the more we’re open to hearing God speak to us – and the more we’ll be open to doing HIS Will.
Every September I head to Colorado with some Catholic buddies. We go to hike, fish, camp, and pray. It’s really like a retreat, and we all look forward to it every year. There’s a problem though – the pine beetles have decimated much of the forests in Colorado – especially up near Rocky Mtn National Park. It is so sad to drive or hike through those area and see all the trees that have turned orange – or have lost their needles altogether. I’m told that part of the reason this beetle infestation has gotten so large is the fact that man has suppressed the natural fires that normally occur every couple hundred years. Apparently, the fires would control the populations of the beetles…if we let them burn. It’s ironic that our very attempts to protect the beauty of that area are what caused the greatest damage to the beauty. I’m not here to argue about whether we should allow wildfires to burn out of control – but my point is that God has a plan – and fire is part of that plan. Doesn’t the same apply to us? Like the second reading teaches us, we shouldn’t look on the Discipline of God as merely an affliction – but as the only way to keep us spiritually healthy – to grow to be more like Jesus.
We can’t become more like Jesus and remain as we are.