Exorcism, apocalypse, righteousness, dogma; certain churchy words can just make us---well---sit, up, straight. Certain weighty words might even make us shiver a little. Today, in this little snippet from Luke’s Journey Narrative, that word is salvation!
How did this happen?
How did salvation, the central event of Jewish remembrance, the remembrance of God’s saving action in freeing the Israelites from long-held bondage in Egypt, become so loaded? How did salvation, which for Jesus so often entailed physical healing from blindness, leprosy, paralysis or possession, become so shiver producing?
Today’s text, with its “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” narrow gates, and frenzied pushing crowds, could have something to do with it. This is Jesus we are talking about, so we can take a deep breath and remember that the gospel itself is part of God’s saving plan.
When the gospel confronts us on this 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in the year 2022, it might be that we need to sit up straight and shiver a little. There is no way around it. Jesus is in a prophetic mood, and he has a warning for us.
The man’s question is strange. He isn’t asking about himself, “Will I be saved?” He appears interested in figuring out a kind of math problem, the ratio of salvation to damnation. In Jesus’ style he doesn’t answer that question. He gives an answer. It’s an answer without a question. The answer is strive. Jesus says, strive.
Strive can be a very tricky word.
When I was working as a hospital chaplain, I was called to visit with a young man who was struggling with discontinuing life support for his father who had suffered a massive, catastrophic stroke. In our conversation he mentioned his angst over the question of his father’s salvation. At the end of our visit he said, “Well, it’s not like I’m a Catholic or anything and think you can just pray yourself to heaven.”
Putting his misinformation aside, this young man was on to something. He recognized that striving, at least in a modern individualized sense, doesn’t leave room for God’s grace and mercy and healing and love. Where does God’s action fit in with such striving?
I feel certain that Jesus didn’t consider striving in this solitary way. Recall the gospel we just heard. In our text striving has something, maybe even everything, to do with being known by Jesus. Striving is what deep desire looks like. Striving is our deep desire to be in relation with the living God. Strivingincreasingly puts us in the right place to see, hear, and respond to God’s saving gaze, the right place to be known.
Striving is how we practice prayer. It is how we practice walking through life with our eyes and ears open to both the wonder and majesty of the created world as well as the places where injustice and suffering seem to be gaining the upper hand.
The thing about this gospel-striving is that it admits to our unfinishedness. It leaves room, plenty good room, for God’s healing-saving grace. Gospel-striving is not deadly, solitary, or lonely. It is alongside, among, in relationship with, God and neighbor.
On the other side of Striving there is always a gift. The gift is finding oneself in Christ; finding oneself, even if just for a few moments here and there, able to say along with St. Paul,
“I live now, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
It is, for sure, a paradox; striving only to find oneself resting in God; God, who brought the Israelites out of Egypt; God, who raised Jesus from the dead; God, who promises to do the same for us…until the kingdom comes.
Cindy Bernardin has been firmly planted in southern Indiana for the past 35 years. Evansville is where she and her husband, Rob, raised their four children and where life in the Church became an adventure. In response to the nagging question “How do I pass this faith on to my children in a robust and compelling way?” Cindy decided to enroll in the MA program at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. Over the next ten years she engaged in a wide variety of parish ministries. Eventually Cindy felt called to hospital ministry completing a yearlong CPE residency leading to seven years of ministry as a certified Catholic chaplain in a level two trauma hospital. In 2014 she began studying for a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree at Aquinas Institute in St. Louis and graduated in 2021.
Cindy preaches ecumenical Sunday Morning Prayer once a month in New Harmony, Indiana. Her latest ministry is working as a preaching coach for the Institute for Homiletics - Preaching for Encounter program, a collaboration between the University of Dallas, The Catholic Foundation of Dallas, and the Archdiocese of Dallas.
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