21st Sunday C
Sunday 21st August 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Lk 13:22 – 30
As Jesus journeyed through the cities and villages, making his way to Jerusalem he taught the people. Someone asked him, ‘Will there only be few saved?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Struggle fiercely to get in through the narrow gate, for I’m telling you seriously, many wil try to enter in and find they cannot. Once the householder has gotten up and locked the door, you may discover yourself outside, beginning to knock and cry out, “Hey, Lord, Lord. Open up!” And he will answer, “I haven’t got a clue who you are.” Then you will say, “What do you mean? We ate with you, we drank with you. Why, you even taught in our streets.” And he will declare, “Look, I’m telling you seriously, I do not know you. Now clear of, you evil-doers!”
Then there will be howls of despair and distress as you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets entering into the Kingdom of God and you thrust outside. Indeed, they will come from everywhere – east, west, north, south – and shall sit down to feast in the Kingdom of God. Look, there are ones who despised now who will be esteemed and ones now esteemed who will be amongst the least.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
O Praise God, all you nations,
praise him all peoples.
Great is his kindness to us.
His faithfulness is forever.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving Jesus, save me from the smugness that presumes too much upon my own goodness. Rather me bring into the glorious freedom that knows that all mercy and salvation is a free gift from you.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
As Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem, his preaching increasingly stresses the radicality of discipleship: service of all, dependence on God’s provident care, being alert at all times to his coming but most challenging of all, the centrality of the cross in this new way of life. In the midst of this new vision of reality, comes a question that epitomises the attitude so antithetical to discipleship of Jesus. In a real sense it could be paraphrased, ‘Sir, just how many other people will be saved along with me? How elite will this group be?’ The questioner clearly has no doubts that he belongs among the saved. He just wants to get an idea of how big, or small, the life raft to glory will be. The cause of his presumption is not necessarily or solely his own pride. Amongst the Jewish religious elite of the time was a heightened appreciation of their dignity as the descendants of Abraham, the chosen ones of God. That was fine and good. But the underbelly of such an appreciation was complacency and smugness. This dignity was not automatically theirs because of physical descent or compliance with religious law. It was based on the gracious generosity of God and, if understood properly, would result in humble and reverent awe before God. As this man so well shows, at times it did not. In the face of such smug arrogance, Jesus offers some stern and vivid warnings.
The verb used for ‘striving’ is the word from which our word for ‘agony’ comes. This striving is less of a race and more of a wrestling match. Jesus uses the image of people vying at the gate of the householder to gain entrance to his feast, with one amongst them presuming a right of entry based on former knowledge and acquaintance. The wrestle is not over and against other people, as the questioner presumed, but with one’s own attitudes. It is pride and presumption that will lead to one being excluded and these are fierce and wily foes. Against them, the best and only defence is humility.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Sometimes in the media, when a person has done something challenging within the Church, the Church itself is likened to a club that has the right to demand its members follow the rules or expect to be expelled. What surprises me about this is that the image is not robustly rejected. The Church is not a club-it is the Body of Christ and we have our membership not because we choose to abide by rules but rather from our relationship to Jesus Christ and having been immersed into the Trinity at our baptism. The problem with the club image is that its shifts the dynamic of membership from relationship with persons to compliance to regulations.
In a very real sense, this attitude underlay the question posed to Jesus in this Gospel. The person obviously presumed that he would be among the saved, and with the reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we can presume that this presumption was based on his membership of the Jewish people. Of course, such a person would follow the Law. With the combination of race and compliance with the Law, his salvation would be assured. Jesus vigorously rejects this. In Jesus’ view few things destroy our ability to receive salvation as effectively as complacency. Complacent people do not work at relationships. Rather they presume they know what is needed to be known about the other and what they need to do to maintain the bonds…and usually that is the bare minimum. Once complacency sets in, a relationship is dying, if not terminal.
On the other hand, relationships that flourish require work, indeed the ‘striving’ Jesus recommends to his questioner. And the initial, and often hardest work, is to hold ourselves in humility and awe before the mystery of another person, especially when that person is God. Nothing can be presumed. We never fully know another person but we can love, ever more, ever deeper. In this Gospel the word for ‘strive’ is a very strong and vigorous verb and it well captures the vitality, sensitivity and commitment we need to bring to our relationships, both with God and others, if they are to flourish.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
The question asked at the beginning of this Gospel reading is an odd one, the only point of it being to emphasis the specialness of the questioner, at least in his own mind. What he really asks is ‘How few will be saved along with me?’ He realises that his pride would be too obvious in such a form so he adopts a more neutral version. The answer we hear Jesus give is a prolonged and vigorous attack on the smugness that underlay the question. The alternative attitude recommended by Jesus is encapsulated in his recommendation to ‘struggle to enter by the narrow gate’. One can presume nothing when it comes to our salvation and our relationship with God. Just because salvation is a free gift, this does not mean that it is given automatically to anyone with a tenuous relationship to Christianity or to religion. Indeed the very idea that one has a claim on God immediately renders one incapable of receiving the generous gift that God wants to offer. By no work of ours, by no affiliation can we demand the gift of salvation. The work that we have to do is to divest ourselves of this very human tendency.
In contrast, in faith we enter into the mystery of relationship with God. No matter how good or holy we may be or become, this relationship will remain radically open and baffling. After all it is God with whom we are relating. Our struggle is not to achieve or to overcome but to hold ourselves in surrender to a God who is an all-consuming fire….and to realise that all we have is received as gracious, free gift.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
- He went through the Villages on the Way to Jerusalem by James Tissot. (click red text)
- –The Narrow Gate by Cornelius Monsma. (click red text)
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you through this week, mull on what you think about yourself as you do ‘good works’. Are you conscious of your own goodness or rather do you thank God for allowing his mercy and love to pass through you.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Spend some time pondering how you judge other people. Who do you see as important, as good, as bad, as unimportant? Then spend some time imagining how you could view each of those people differently. Then ask Jesus to show you how he views those people.
Rest in the love of your God.
Suggestions for the Programme
The elements of the programme can be used in any way that helps your prayer. The suggestions below are fairly simple ways of using this programme.
Become conscious of your God
Hymn or poem
Reading of Gospel text
Mulling over a reflection
Become conscious of your God
Reading of Gospel text and reflection
The programme can also be used for Staff Prayer. How you may put together such a prayer would be influenced largely by the size and dynamics of your staff. For example, a smaller staff group might be able to use discussion of a movie as a way of exploring the meaning of a Gospel.
A painting illustrating the Gospel could be displayed on an interactive board
Reading of the Gospel
Invitation for share reflections
Reading of part of the Gospel
One or two of the mulling themes
Time for reflection
- All That Is Hidden by Bernadette Farrell
- Lift Up Your Hearts by Roc O’Connor
- Seek, O Seek the Lord by James McAuley and Richard Connolly
- In Faith and Hope and Love by James McAuley and Richard Connolly