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Spirituality of the Readings
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time C
August 25, 2019
John Foley, SJ
Heaven’s Gate

Jesus tells two parables about someone asking a favor at a late hour. They teach us a lot.

Maybe you remember the first one, which Jesus told two weeks ago. He said there was a man knocking on a friend’s door at midnight, wanting to borrow some bread. The friend yelled back,

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.

Get to know God now. Do not delay till you get to heaven’s gates

But he does. Jesus says:

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.

Jesus interpreted as follows:

I tell you, 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 back that feeling for a while. Look at this Sunday’s Gospel. Here again someone is knocking on the door late at night, but receives nothing. The master of the house says,

I do not know where you are from.

The one(s) knocking reply: “But we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.”

Look carefully at those words: The askers are mere casual acquaintances, if that. Something like this: we liked what you did, and now we want more!

The master says,

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 says,

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!*

What is going on here? Is Jesus just in a bad mood? We know that he is “making his way to Jerusalem” when he tells this parable, walking straight into the crucifixion, and maybe he is just anxious.

Yet notice that, in his prior parable, even though the owner opens the door just to get the noise stopped, the interruption was being caused by a friend—even if a rude one—who would not stop asking for what he needed. That parable told us to keep asking God, our friend, for what we need, even though he may be a bit grumpy.

But in the parable for this Sunday, the people outside are not friends and in fact they have no relationship at all to the man in the house. The parable states that they knew about him only from parties and from the streets. They heard him preaching, but did nothing. They did not come to his house at a reasonable time and begin a friendship. No amount of midnight knocking will make up for it.

What is our lesson? That God keeps the door open long beyond what we would expect, all the way to the end. But if we are too busy partying and dancing, then finally there is nothing he can do. He has to accept our decision to stay outside.

The message? Get to know God now. Do not delay till you get to heaven’s gates and have nothing to show for yourself.

John Foley, SJ

 * A minor note: I re-worded this paragraph because the lectionary’s translation does not seem to be 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.

Doesn’t 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.

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

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

Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go