By Deacon Jerry Franzen – St. Henry Parish - August 22, 2004
Isaiah 66:18-21 Hebrews12:5-7, 11-13 Luke 13:22-30
Last weekend, my wife, Tena, my daughter,Dawn,and I
went to a reunion of a portion of my wife’s family in Wisconsin.
Several parts of today’s readings remind me of my wife’s birthstate.
The diversity of peoples expressed in the first reading prompts me
to recall that Wisconsin was settled by a variety of nationalities
and social classes, although the greater part were German farmers.
The focus in the second reading on discipline
certainly speaks to the classic picture of the staunch,frugal,
hard working German heritage.
And in the Gospel, Jesus told his followers that they had to do more
than just claim that they ate and drank in his company.
Wisconsin is well known for good food,especially cheese and brats
and for all manner of good things to drink.
Some have said that the Badger State is like the kingdom
of which Jesus spoke.
They proudly proclaim Wisconsin as “God’s Country”
But there is another aspect of the dairy state that came to my mind
as I read today’s Gospel.
One of the more famous attractions in Wisconsin is an area
known as the Wisconsin Dells,an area along the Wisconsin River.
In this area, rock formations rise steeply along the banks of the river.
In some places the formations rise up right in the middle of the river.
These formations resulted from layers of sediment
that were deposited by the glaciers that once traversed this area.
The differently colored strata of rock can be clearly seen
as the formations rise out of the water.
I understand that the word “Dells” comes from a French word “dalles”
which means layers.
On a boat trip along the river one can see the rock up close.
At some places on the trip,the boat will pull into a cove
in the rock,and people can disembark and literally walk back
into the rock formation along a narrow pathway in a vertical crevice.
The crack is only 2-3 feet wide at some points on the path;
the rock walls along the crevice are 30 to 50 feet high.
Of course, there is gift shop at the end of the path.
Walking this path brings into focus Jesus’ command to
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
In the 11th, 12th and, this, the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel,
people bring questions to Jesus as he is on his journey to Jerusalem.
In response to these questions,Jesus taught the people
about what was necessary to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
He taught them how to pray.
He taught them about true blessedness
– hearing God’s word and acting upon it.
He taught them to beware of the leaven
of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
He taught them how to be faithful and prudent stewards.
He taught them about the dangers of storing up riches.
He taught about repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
He used parables to teach about the kingdom of God,
All in the course of three chapters.
And now in today’s reading Jesus is asked
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
“With all of these restrictions, how can we do it;
How can we enter into the kingdom?”
And Jesus response is that the gate is narrow:
many will not have the strength to enter.
And the people say, “Why won’t the master let us in?
We have been taught by you; we have eaten with you.”
And Jesus replied that the master will say
that he doesn’t even know where the people are from.
There are three items:
1. Why is the gate so narrow?
2. What strength is required to enter this narrow gate?
3. And why did the master say that he did not know
where they were from?
Not that he didn’t know them,
but that he did not know where they came from.
The gate to salvation is narrow; it is along a very narrow path,
that of a follower of Jesus.
It can’t accommodate a person who carries a lot of worldly baggage.
If I had tried to carry a large backpack and a big suitcase
through that crevice in the rock at the Dells,
I would not have made it.
I would have been stuck at the narrowest points.
If we are attempting to follow the path of Jesus
and carrying along a lot of worldly baggage,
baggage like greed, pleasure and power seeking,vengeance and hate,
this baggage will impede us in our journey.
If we have become so inflated with our own self image,
so taken by ourselves at the expense of our neighbor,
we won’t make it through that narrow gate.
But Jesus says that we must strive to enter.
Jesus was implying that we can do it,
but only if we have the strength.
Maybe I could have been strong enough
to lift my hypothetical suitcase and backpack
and to somehow squeeze through the rocks.
But Jesus is not talking about physical strength,
he is talking about spiritual strength,
the strength of will to make the commitment
to untie that worldly baggage,
to let loose of it and leave it behind.
It’s the strength by which we know that we can make it
in this life and into eternal life without our continuing
to seek to fulfill our every worldly desire.
In a sense, it’s the strength by which we seek to become weak.
It reminds us of what Jesus said:
“Unless you become like little children, …”
Little children can get through the narrow gate easily;
they don’t have all the extra baggage.
For us it takes strength.
And just being taught by Jesus and eating with him
were not enough.
God has to know where you are from.
Just coming here and being taught by the Word
and being nourished with the Eucharist
at the table are not enough for our salvation.
When we come to the final accounting,
it will be a matter of whether God knows us.
True, God knows everything,
but here Jesus was talking about knowing as humans know.
We really get to know someone by how they act,
by what they do on a regular basis,
by what they do in special situations.
How one acts is based on one’s mindset,
one’s principles and values and one’s upbringing.
We say, “I know where you are coming from.”
It’s not the number of classes, workshops, retreats
or Bible studies we have attended,
not the number of festivals,
committee meetings or celebrations one has attended;
it’s how we have shed the baggage of ourselves and our sin,
how we have trimmed away those things
we think we need for strength
so that we can walk the narrow path
that leads to that narrow gate.
God will know us by how we have walked that path.
He will know us by where we are from,
by the path we have taken.
This week our school started;
the theme of the opening Mass was that this beginning
of the school year was the beginning of a journey,
a journey through teaching and learning,
a journey through gatherings,
some of which will be meals,
truly a journey of actions that follow the pathway
in preparation for the narrow gate.
This is an occasion for all of us,
especially parents who can be examples
of that strength of will to follow Christ
to be examples of the lifestyle that says,
“God, this is how you will know me.”
We hear the teaching voice of God each Sunday;
we are fed at his table each Sunday.
May we all today resolve to begin again that journey,
to leave here today on this week’s segment of the path,
to trim our worldly baggage
to act in such a way that God will say
“I know you,
your actions show that you are one of my children”