The BIG Question
Discussion was around the Gospel for the day, Luke 13:23-30 which begins with someone, presumably a Jew, asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Here is the passage with the preceding and following verses included just for some context.
He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ 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. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”
Response of Jesus
In the Luke 13 passage, it is not clear whether the questioner was asking about being saved to eternal life or just about surviving possible military conflict with or persecution by the Romans or other enemies or persecutors of the Jews, but Jesus ignored that issue, and shifted immediately from how many to whether or not and from event (being saved) and from process (ate and drank in your presence, taught in the streets) to relationship (I don’t know you or where you come from.)
(NABRE is in a minority here in omitting the “I don’t know you” from the translations though “I don’t know where you are from” was apparently considered an equivalent repudiation in the culture of the time. If you want to investigate, all the English translations of the verse are HERE.)
Searching the Catechism
I searched the Catechism for a simple formula for being “saved.” I didn’t find one. I guess it must be all about the relationship we have with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through our public Profession of Faith (Creeds), regular Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Sacraments), Life in Christ (Beatitudes, Virtues, Gifts, Commandments), and Christian Prayer (in the pattern of The Our Father). Hmm. Those bold print items are the four major divisions of the Catechism. The whole Catechism must be all about “being saved.”
The Hard Part – For Me
Assuming that is true, we can recite the creeds, show up faithfully for Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, and pray the Our Father out of habit, but, for me at least, It’s that Life in Christ, living the Beatitudes, practicing the Virtues and Gifts, obeying the Commandments, that seems impossible, at least outside the walls of The Church. Even if I stay busy doing those things, there is still the issue of motive, the secret motives of my heart. Are they selfish or unselfish, based on love or on self interest? Even St. Paul had that concern:
1 Corinthians 4:4-5 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (From Monday Oct 28 Office of Readings)
In Case of Despair
But, when we despair, we can remember the promise of Jesus when his disciples asked him the same question he was asked in Luke 13: “...for God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:24-26 – Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
It seems fair to say that only the love of God, both His love for us and our love for God, make possible and fruitful that “striving” mentioned in Luke 13. Striving for our own benefit, without that relationship with God, must be useless. There is evidence of that even in the Old Testament, when the big question was addressed.
Isaiah 64:5-7 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
So, we don’t have to deny that salvation is a free gift of God and that our “works” have nothing to do with our salvation except that they are fruits of it if we, by the Grace of God, are able to say someday with St. Paul that:
2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
St. Paul seems to have had more confidence here than in his letter to the Corinthians. I suspect he had grown spiritually in the dozen years or so of faithful and selfless service between writing a letter to a new church around 56 AD and being in prison in Rome awaiting his death maybe in 68 AD.
Well, at least we may be able to say that we have striven! And that is what Jesus recommended in Luke 13.
Bonus question: At this link is a non-Catholic explanation of how to be saved. Can it work? I believe so, but what is missing from it that is important to Catholic Christians?
I’m sure that any who have read this far will think of other answers. Share them with me and I will post them below this statement. I clearly got bogged down a bit in this issue, but it is one that is of prime importance to me and just thinking and writing about it is helpful. As always, please feel free to point out any place you think I have erred.