Effort Expected

Is 66:18-21 • Heb 12:5-7,11-13 • Lk 13:22-30

Satan was in a foul mood. It was unthinkable. Souls entering hell were decreasing, so Satan called for a convention of all his minions. When the gathering of devils convened, Satan told them that they must come up with a new way of winning souls for hell. Focus groups, discussions and presentations followed.

A very young devil gave the first report. He suggested that a real demonstration of the power of hell should be given: fires, pestilence, floods, violence, etc. When people see how powerful Satan is, he said, it will win over souls wishing for Satan’s protection. Satan shook his head. He said this plan would backfire because, when bad things start happening, most people turn to God, not the devil.

Another devil took the convention floor. His report suggested that Satan start buying people’s souls by offering them wealth and power. Satan responded that this had worked in the past, but only so many people can have wealth and power, so the number of souls this plan would capture for hell would be small. Besides, Satan added, generally good people don’t care all that much about wealth and power. They recognize wealth and power as temptations.

Many other devils offered their groups’ suggestions, but no new idea for bringing more souls into hell was found. The convention began to grow despondent when, finally, in the back of the convention hall the oldest devil in hell other than Satan himself rose. The hall grew silent. All waited to hear what the Old Devil had to say. He said that increasing hell’s population is really quite easy, that all that needs to be done is to is to whisper into each human’s ear, “Don’t hurry or worry — there is plenty of time left for you to turn to God.”

We go to church often enough. We make our donations. But, the way to God demands more than casual involvement. Two weeks ago, the Gospel reminded us that we do not know when the master of the house will return. What will the Master discover when he returns? Will we be ready, or will we have procrastinated? Time is not on our side when it comes to salvation. Jesus tells us that God has invited us into the Kingdom, and when God finally shuts the door, many will be caught standing outside who have never stepped through the door. Many think, “I’m a good person, I’m not too worried about getting into heaven.” Those of us who have ever thought this way should hear the Gospel again: Many, I tell you, will try to enter and be unable.

Jesus called the door to the kingdom “narrow.” In times of attack, the city would close its gates for protection. There was still the need to get people into the city at a moment’s notice. Large city gates cannot be opened and closed quickly, so there was always a smaller, narrow door. It was narrow so that if the door was breached during an attack, only one attacking soldier at a time could get through; therefore, this door only required a handful of defenders. One day the gates will be closed, and there will be only the narrow door, and it’s not easy to enter.

Luke says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” The same Greek word is the root for our words “strive” and “agony.” “Strive to enter.” “Agonize” over entering. This is the call of Jesus. Some translations say, “Try to enter,” which does capture the sense of effort Jesus tells us we must make. “Striving” implies working very hard, just as Olympic athletes give their all to achieve victory. We cannot run next week’s marathon if we start working out only today. Time is essential for any achievement, but time does run out.

We must respond to God’s invitation appropriately. Unfortunately, we get off the hook for our mistakes and sins so often in this life that we allow ourselves to believe we can get off the hook when it comes to getting into heaven. Jesus warns us that such a casual response to God and His expectations of us will leave us as strangers to Him. We might occasionally eat in company with Lord at Mass, but that does not mean we have really come to know Him. Acquaintances are not friendships. Friendship with the Lord is the proper response to God’s invitation to join Him in the Kingdom. Friendship requires work. We have to strive to make friends, and we have to strive harder to keep friends.

Yes, there are deathbed confessions, and even the thief hanging with Jesus was saved at the last minute. But we know better than to expect reward without effort. If our relationship with God is important, we must work at it. We must use our time well.

FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.