21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 25, 2019
If you complete a form online, pay a fee (rather substantial), make an appointment for a personal interview (not always easily arranged), and present the proper identification at that time, then you might be TSA pre-approved. Simply put, this means that when you arrive at an airport to catch a flight, you qualify to pass through a special check point (the narrow gate).
Besides the fact that the process is less intrusive (you don’t have to remove your shoes or belt), at any given time, the majority of passengers who enjoy this privilege wait less than five minutes to be cleared for travel by the Transportation Safety Administration. I am not one of the 7 million Americans who have gone through the process. First of all, because I so rarely fly, it isn’t worth the expense, but mostly because the advantage of “pre-approval” status is vastly diminished once you pass through the “narrow gate.”
Regardless of how long it took to get through security, all passengers still have to make their way to the boarding area, wait for the boarding call, endure the inevitable delay occasioned by some warning light that necessitates an inspection and follow-up paperwork. Whether or not you are a pre-approved or a first-class passenger, or you are crammed into the middle seat in the last row of the aircraft…everyone has to sit and wait while the plane taxis out to the runway where it sits (oftentimes as long as 45 minutes) until the flight is cleared for take-off. Everyone (eventually) arrives at the destination at the same time.
Some read Jesus’s words reported in today’s Gospel as a fairly sobering suggestion that access to the Kingdom of God is extremely limited…granted to very few, and only after a severe screening process. And while it is certainly true that The Lord is encouraging us to make an effort to be pre-approved for admission, the reality is that the discipline required for entry through the special, narrow gate is rigorous to the point that it is beyond most people’s capabilities.
For example, martyrs step out of the line and are waved forward without any further screening or waiting. But martyrdom is not something you apply for. Moreover, giving your life up for love of God is something that is beyond the strength of many otherwise good and faithful Christians. One’s very life is a substantial cost that Jesus willingly paid. Few other human beings, however, are that totally and completely selfless.
The fact that a person is not called to be a martyr or has led such a blameless life that The Church calls them “saint” does not mean that they will be denied entry. Our Second Reading tells us not to be discouraged. And while Jesus certainly points out that once the door is closed, it will not be reopened, the whole of The Gospel entitles us to hope that no well-intentioned person will experience the disappointment of a traveler who sees the plane still at the gate, but is denied entry because the craft has been secured for take-off.
We are a pilgrim people…travelers…refugees. Our time in this world is little more than a layover as we wait for the call, inviting us home. Our Readings leave no doubt that there is a screening process prior to departure. Although few will be pre-approved, a disciplined life, involving commitment to the Gospel and guided and supported by our Church and Sacraments enables us to wait our turn with the hope that we will not be left behind.
Travelers are asked to empty their pockets, open carry-on baggage, and abandon excluded items at security. Just so with our lives, as we leave time in route to eternal joy. But, no one will be allowed to travel with things such as hatred, greed, envy, bigotry…the list of prohibited items is exhaustive. We need to be purged of everything contrary to Christ’s message of peace, justice, and love before we are waved through the gate.
The good news is this: Once we abandon those things…a warm welcome awaits us. So, try not to prolong the process. Empty your lives of everything contrary to Christ prior to approaching security. And know that the first to cheer your arrival will be those who were pre-approved. How can I say that with certainty?
I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:7)