21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): Hands Free
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about entering the Kingdom of God as he makes his way to Jerusalem, the most holy city for the Jewish people. People come to Jerusalem from all over—north and south, east and west—because they know that the Temple in Jerusalem is the dwelling place of God. Jesus journeys there for a slightly different purpose. There he will suffer, die, and rise to new life, never to die again. People sense the urgency of his journey.
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”
Even as he travels, Jesus stops to teach. Teaching people about the Kingdom is a huge part of who he is and how he offers himself to God. His name means “He who saves.” No wonder someone asks about how many he will save.
He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.
Who enters this narrow door?
Only those who are not fat? Seriously? Come on.
Only those who are fit—strong and agile? Unlikely.
Only those with nothing in their hands, carrying no burdens?
When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’
Jesus often tells parables about owners of houses. We get the sense that the owner is God. Wouldn't God know the people who are knocking?
But we notice that the owner of the house does not say "I do not know you," but that he does not know where they come from. The people protest. The owner has taught in their streets, in their hometowns. They have shared meals. He must remember. He must know where they come from.
But twice he says, no.
The people say, “We ate and drank with you,” not “We eat and drink with you.” They did it before. It happened in the past. It has not been happening all along. After looking out to see if anyone else is coming up the walkway, the owner has shut the door. Now, these people “begin to stand outside and to knock.” They just appear. They have not journeyed all the way.
All the way. All along.
The journey is important.
Okay, we get it. So what do we do?
In ancient times, the city of Jerusalem was protected by a large stone wall. To enter the city, people had to pass through gates built into the wall. Some people say that one of the gates was called the "Eye of a Needle" because it was so narrow that someone riding a camel could not pass through it. Entering this gate on foot, after travelling all the way from Galilee, would not have been a problem. After the long journey on foot, everyone would be strong. Everyone travelling with Jesus would be fit, and all could pass through the narrow gate into Jerusalem.
The journey with Jesus makes us fit through the narrow door. Walking everyday with him, like the people walking with him from the villages in Galilee to the hill country of Judea, is important. It trains us. It makes us strong. It makes us fit.
How do we walk everyday with him? Do we have to carry a Bible with us everywhere we go (since Jesus is the Word of God 😉)?
Actually, we might be getting closer to what this means.
We spend time with Jesus—with the Word of God and the sacraments. We could even walk with him quite literally. We could copy out one of his teachings—for they are who he is and how he offers himself to God. We could put in our pocket for a week. Every time we feel it there, we would remember who we travel with.
We keep in mind that Narrow Door. Carrying bags of groceries over our shoulders, a soccer ball under our arm, a piece of furniture in our hands, trying to kick open a door with one foot—nope, not going to work. Similarly, to fit through the Narrow Door, to follow Jesus, to build the Kingdom of God, we need our hands free of clutter. If we carry guilt, anger, or sin we cannot get through the narrow door. We need to put down our burdens; we need to empty our hands.
Once at confession, the priest said to pray the Our Father with hands empty, palms up. Empty—not carrying anything, no hurt, no anger, no guilt. Empty—ready to receive gifts of love and forgiveness from God.
We pick up hurt and anger, guilt and sin as we live this life. We are human. It happens. But we are not meant to carry it all around with us.
So how do we put it down???
Only with the grace of God.
We ask, and God takes away the hurt and anger and guilt. We come to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and God takes away the sin. All of it. Absolutely. (That's why it's called "Absolution"!)
God is so wanting and waiting to do this for us. The owner of the house looks out to see us coming up the walkway. God calls from the other side of that Narrow Door, stretching out a hand to grasp our empty ones, ready to pull us through to the Kingdom of God.