Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the Mass readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 21, 2022.)

Psalm 117 reads “Praise the Lord, all you nations; glorify him, all you peoples! For steadfast is his kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.”

The psalm is the shortest psalm (and chapter) in the Scriptures. It may be brief, but it is a powerful message. It is at once a call, an invitation and an act of praise.

The call is to worship – “Praise the Lord.” Why? Because he is kind toward us and faithful to his people. His love provides stability in our lives. He is true. Even when we go astray or fall, he remains faithful; in the words of another psalm, “his love endures forever” (cf. Ps 136)

The invitation is for “all nations” and “all peoples” to experience the love God has for everyone and to join in the covenant of faith. The act of praise is the acclamation of his love. Everyone is called and invited.

The psalm is used as the responsorial for today’s liturgy. Our response is: “Go out and tell the world the Good News.” Indeed the Good News is that we are loved by God. He loves us into existence and sustains us in life through his love.

The response echoes the last words Jesus speaks in The Gospel According to Matthew: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” In Jesus, we have experienced the fullness of God’s love. The message is meant to be proclaimed so all can share in the gift.

Jesus is the Good News we proclaim. When he came among us, he was sent by the Father on a mission: to make the Father’s love visible or manifest. Jesus does this through his life, death and resurrection. He comes that we might be one in love.

Recall his words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way” (Jn 14:1-4).

Thomas says to Jesus in response to this: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus then says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Jesus and the Father are one. Through him, we enter into this loving communion of life, eternal life. This is the greatest of gifts. This is the Good News we are called to proclaim.

The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy challenges us to remember the centrality of Jesus in our journey through life. Jesus first gives an instruction, followed by an illustration, and concludes with a warning. The instruction is given in response to a question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus replies: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

The illustration is given in the form of a parable. People trying to get into the locked house but the master will not let them in saying: “I do not know where you are from.” They in turn say: ‘we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” The master turns them away, saying: “Depart from me you evil doers.” The warning is summarized in the last sentence: “Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last.”

Here Jesus speaks to the crowd, most probably Jewish as he is. In this context, the “first” are those who first entered into the covenant relationship with the Father through Israel. Those who remained faithful will enter the kingdom. Jesus mentions Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets.

The “last” are the Gentiles, the people of the nations, the non-Jewish people who come to know God outside of the first covenant. The warning is sharp. He uses “some” to reference people in each group.

So what then qualifies where a person fits? Before considering the answer, we should remember that in the Gospels, Jesus was rejected by many. He offered the invitation to life but at times he was scorned, ignored, “written off” or plotted against. This will ultimately end in his Passion.

Others accepted him, put their faith in him and became his disciples. To answer the question “who qualifies?” we need to go back to the instruction, remembering all the while that one of the purposes of a parable is the make us think about it. In other words, there is not always a clear-cut answer, or the meaning may be manifold.

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Perhaps Jesus is the “narrow gate.” He describes himself as a “gate” in the Fourth Gospel. There He says: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9; cf. Jn 10:7).

Jesus is the way to the Father, and the way is narrow because it is specific. It relates to Jesus. Living life according to the Gospel is not chosen by all or perhaps, at times, even many. Yet there are many who do so, either directly through faith or in the quest to live a good life in accord with God’s vision. Perhaps the “many” whom Jesus says “will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” refer to those who think they can be saved on their own, by their own will-power or something of the kind.

The Good News is that God is kind and faithful. His love never fails. He invites us to know that love in a very personal encounter – with his Son. Jesus is the Good News.

The news is too good to hold to ourselves. He is the news that should be shared, for to know him is to know love, and to encounter him is to encounter the Father. And so we hear the call: “Go out to all the nations and proclaim the Good News.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.