Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

Religion and Faith

Have you ever met the person who has faith, but holds religion in disdain? How do you think the person would change if he or she accepted a religious tradition?

Many claim to be spiritual while they reject organized religion. Some claim religious traditions stifle the human spirit. Others claim, that since all religious traditions have the same goal, choosing any path or even one's own path will achieve the same end. At worst, religion is rejected as a burden. At best, it is treated as one of many different options for life.

America seems to currently be filled with this line of reasoning. Poll after poll shows that the majority of people in the United States pray on a weekly basis, while fewer than half attend religious services on the Sabbath.

Religious hypocrisy is easy to catch and easy to hold up for ridicule. Simply being religious is not enough. Jesus pointed this fact out in Luke's gospel. But, does religion lack real purpose in life?

Popular Translation

22 Jesus taught in towns and villages he passed through on his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone called out to him, "Hey, Lord! Are the saved few in number?'"

24 "Just try to get through the narrow door of God's Kingdom!" Jesus challenged the crowd. "I tell you many will try. But they won't be strong enough.

25 After the homeowner gets up and locks the door, you will stand outside and knock. And you will call out, 'Lord! Open the door for us!'

He will answer, 'I don't know who you are!'

26 'But we had dinner with you. And you taught in our neighborhoods,' you will plead.

27 'I don't know who you are!' the homeowner will respond. 'Go away! You're evil!'

28 Then, you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with the prophets inside God's Kingdom. But, you will cry and grind your teeth in anger because you sit outside. 29 People will come from east and west, north and south. They will sit at the feast in God's Kingdom. 30 Listen! The people who are the least important will be first to enter God's Kingdom. And those who think they're important will be the last to enter."

In Luke's gospel, Jesus answered a simple question. How many will be saved? Jesus shifted the answer from numbers to faith. Who will be saved? It would not be what the questioner expected.

Literal Translation

22 HE traveled through towns and villages, teaching, and making his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone said to HIM, "Lord, (are only) the few being saved?" 24 HE said to them, "Struggle to go through the narrow door. Many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be strong (enough). 25 From (the time) which the head of the house rose up and closes the door and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, "Master, open up for us,' having answered, he will say to you, 'I do not know from where you are.' 26 Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank before you, and you taught in our streets.' 27 Speaking to you, he will say, 'I do not know from where you are. Stand away from me, all (you) workers of injustice!' 28 There will be crying and gnashing of teeth when you will see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you having been thrown outside. 29 They will come from east and west, from north and south, and they will recline in the Kingdom of God. 30 Look, the last are (those) who will be first, and the first (are those) who will be last."

13:22 This sentence might be confusing. Jesus taught in villages and towns as he made his way to Jerusalem.

13:23 "the narrow door" In the time of Jesus, homes had narrow doors to discourage bandits and thieves. In the light of the verse, Jesus seemed to indicate that many who were not invited to enter the Kingdom would try.

13:25 "From (the time) which" This subordinate clause actually has three verbs "rise up," "close the door," and "begin (to stand outside and knock). The subject of the first two verbs was the head of the house; the subject of the third verb was "you." The main verb in the sentence was "(he) will say (to you)."

13:25, 27 "I do not know from where you are." This phrase was translated as literally as possible. The head of the house was not stating ignorance about the geographic origin of the visitor ("I do not know from where you come"), but family origins. In the time of Jesus, one's family tree gave a person place and honor in a community, because it brought connections. Of course, in the context of the gospel, Jesus wasn't concerned about family background, but relationship. In other words, the head of the house denied any personal connection with the person outside.

13:26 The people outside the door try to defend themselves as witnesses. They claimed table fellowship with the Lord and they tried to pass themselves off as disciples who learned from the traveling Rabbi.

13:28 Those rejected will see the patriarchs and the prophets in the Kingdom (for a parallel, see the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31). Taken with the image of reclining in 13:29, the parable referred to the heavenly banquet in the Kingdom.

Who truly knows what pleases God?

In the gospel passage, someone asked Jesus about those who will be saved the end of the world. [13:23] As God's Chosen People, many Jews believed they would be saved, simply because they were faithful Jews. The questioner may have wanted Jesus to confirm that belief. But, Jesus turned the question of numbers (how many would be saved) to a challenge of identity (who would be saved).

Simply being religious by habit or by association (being part of a religious organization) does not make one right in the eyes of God. There are many reasons to be religious (pride, social standing, lifestyle, etc.) that have little to do with faith. To make that point, Jesus used the image of party crashers. These people would struggle to gain entrance to the party but would be turned away [13:24]. Then, they would knock on the closed door and demand admittance. But the master of the house would deny he knew them [13:25]. Finally, they would try to engage the master in a debate. These crashers broke bread and heard him teaching in their neighborhoods (i.e., they claim to be "disciples.") [13:26]. But, the master would condemn them [13:27]. Jesus' point was clear. No matter how hard one tries, no matter how much one demands in prayer, no matter how much one claims to behave religiously, going through the religious motions does not make one a true disciple.

In fact, Jesus insisted, God would call people whom one would least expect to have a faith relationship. They come from different races, cultures, and countries. They might not be "religious" in the popular sense of the word, but they would put their trust in God. Those who trusted would truly please God (the last who are first), while those who were simply religious could displease God (the first who are last). [13:30]

This gospel highlighted an attitude shift in religious thinking. Do we think of being religious as the things we do (i.e., going to Mass on Sunday, praying on a daily basis, helping a neighbor, etc.)? Or do we think of being religious as relationship with God? Religious activities are very good, but they are only meant to help us keep focused on God. They are not an end in themselves.

Catechism Theme: Religion and Faith (CCC 31-35)

The primary goal of our human existence is to know and love God. There are many ways to achieve a loving relationship with the Almighty. We can approach him through creation, the wonders in the universe that inspire awe and wonder. We can approach him through introspection, a realization that humanity contains virtues and values that transcend the context of a particular time and space. The outward journey of creation and the inward journey of self lead to one conclusion. There is a source and final end to existence that transcends both. There is a God.

However, we have limits on how far we reach out for God. At some point, we must open ourselves to the message God gives us. More important, we must be willing to accept the gift he gives us. No matter how hard we try, we cannot achieve union with God by our own efforts. We must surrender self to God and allow him to become Lord of our lives.

Many have made a distinction between religion and faith. They have a point, but one cannot be divorced from the other. Religion is the context for faith. While being active members of a church may not bring us closer to God, membership certainly helps. It pricks our hard hearts and jabs our dull minds toward God and what he offers us. Religion sharpens the focus so we can accept God's gifts and grow in his presence.

What church practices help you grow closer to God? Which hinder that growth? Why do you think some help and some don't?

Yes, being religious is not enough. But, how well can someone be spiritual without the support of a community and a tradition? Jesus clearly did not reject the traditions or people of Israel. He simply challenged his listeners to take the next step. Stop trusting what you think. And begin to trust God.

Jesus words challenge us to shake off religious complacency and seek out God. Trust in God is the key. Trust is the only way we can even begin to know the mind of God.

What religious practice will you use this week to come closer to God? How will this practice open your heart and sharpen your mind to see God in your life?