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Spirituality of the Readings
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time C
August 25, 2013

Heaven’s Gate

The parable for this Sunday seems a total contradiction of the one Jesus told only four weeks ago, on the 17th Sunday of the year, a bare two chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel. Let us look, because our spiritual life is profoundly affected by the difference between the two.

Both parables have a basis: ask and you shall receive.

In the 17th Sunday parable Jesus told about a man knocking on a friend’s door at midnight to borrow some bread. The friend answers from inside:

Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.

Jesus continues,

I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.

Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Doesn’t it feel good knowing that constant prayer will get the door opened?

Well hold your feelings back awhile and look at the Gospel for this Sunday. Here again, someone is knocking on the door late at night. This master of the house also refuses, saying, "I do not know where you are from."

The people outside say, "We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets."

In other words, they are casual acquaintances, if that. The master yells,

I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!

Ouch. What about “ask and you shall receive”? As if to rub it in, Jesus continues,

There will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see the saved ones—
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets—
looking down from heaven
while you are being cast out!*

Cast out? Wailing? What is going on here? Is Jesus in a bad mood?

No. Here is the difference.

The first parable, the one from the 17th Sunday, specified that we were God's friends, and therefore we could ask for whatever we needed. Even if asking does not work, he will open the door because we keep insisting. We came so late because we had a visitor who had arrived unexpectedly.

The parable for this Sunday instead shows people outside who are not friends with the master at all. Apparently they have no relationship to the man in the house and know about him only from hearing him teach in the streets! Their knocking comes at midnight only because they were too busy, or whatever else, to get there earlier.

Are you and I friends to Jesus, or just somewhat interested parties? God will open the door to us if we are there not merely for the sake of curiosity or tourist attraction, but rather for the loving relationship to God that underlies our needs. If we are not open to being friends with God, we have made a decision that he will reluctantly respect:, and the door we have not knocked on will remain closed.

The message? Get to know God now. Do not delay till you get to heaven’s gate and have no prior relationship to show for yourself.

John Foley S. J.

*A minor note: I re-worded this paragraph because the lectionary’s translation is not good English. It says, “And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.” The series of “and’s” lets this sound like a list of those who will be cast out, including Abraham and the others. At least it is open to that misunderstanding, which would not make sense.

Fr. John Foley, S. J. is a composer and scholar at
Saint Louis University.

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Copyright © 2013, John B. Foley, S. J.
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Art by Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
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