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Background and Context:
This Sunday’s reading comes from Luke’s famous “journey narrative” which details our Blessed Lord’s “death march to Jerusalem” (Bishop Fulton Sheen). The narrative begins in 9:51 on a twofold note, one glorious, the other ominous.
When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (9:51). The phrase “to be received up” is a reference to his glorious ascension, but one should see the whole Paschal mystery implied, this is in keeping with the Gospel’s presentation of the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension as a unified whole. The phrase recalls the event of the Transfiguration where Jesus talked to Moses and Elijah about “his exodus,” i.e., his departure out of this world (see 9:30-31).
He set his face to go to Jerusalem. The Greek is και αυτος το προσωπον αυτου εστηριξεν του πορευεσθαι εις ιερουσαλημ; literally: He set (hardened or stiffened) his face to go to Jerusalem. At one and the same time this announces his determination to face his destiny (see 13:31-33), but it also implies he is coming in judgment to Jerusalem. This is clear from certain Old Testament passages, most notably Ezekiel 21:2 (verse 7 according to some manuscripts) where God says to the prophet: “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries; prophesy against the land of Israel.” Similar phrasing is found in Ezek 6:2 (against the mountains of Israel); 13:17 (against the daughters of Israel); see also 14:8; 15:7; 20:46. Also Jeremiah 21:10~For I have set my face against this city for evil and not for good, says the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’
The journey narrative ends in chapter 19 with Jesus seeing the city and lamenting its impending fate: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, 44 and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.” and then prefiguring its destruction by cleansing the temple.
In Jesus God has “visited and redeemed his people” (1:68; see also 7:16), but some would not have it so. Against this backdrop of judgment the journey narrative contains a great deal of teaching on how one is to respond and act in light God’s redemptive intervention. The determination our Blessed Lord shows in his mission is the same his followers must show (9:57-62). One must accept Jesus and his Gospel or suffer judgment (10:1-24). One must show mercy (10:25-37). One thing is needful, listening to the teaching of the Lord (10:38-42), which is cultivated by fervent and importunity in prayer (11:1-13). One must have faith in Jesus’ power and respond accordingly (11:14-36). One’s response must be authentic (11:37-54). The inauthentic hypocrites will not withstand either the judgment of God or persecution by men (12:1-12). One must trust in God and not in “stuff,” and one must be ready for the day of the risen Christ’s return (12:13-40). From those who have been given much much will be expected in return, wisdom and faithfulness is needed, for opposition, even within the household of faith is great (12:41-53). Wisdom and faith will give you proper perspective and show you that the way out of hypocrisy is repentance (12:54-13:9). A hypocrite is an adversary of the Lord’s and he will be put to shame. It is foolish for a man to aggrandize himself with hypocrisy when the Kingdom of God has humble beginnings (13:10-21).
It is against this broad background that today’s reading is situated. 13:22-35 is basically a twofold introduction to a new section of the journey narrative. The first part of the introduction (Sunday’s reading, 13:22-30) prepares for chapters 14:1-17:10; while the second part of the introduction (13:31-35) prepares for chapters 17:11-19:48. In the notes which follow I will try to bring out some of the connections between our reading and 14:1-17:10
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
Journeying toward Jerusalem. Calls to mind the beginning of the journey narrative and all that it implies, as noted above. The reference to towns and villages calls to mind the mission of the 70 (see 10:1) which account focused on the theme of judgment (see 10:10-16). That same theme appears in our current reading.
The fact that our Lord is teaching calls to mind events immediately preceding the journey narrative, notably, the Transfiguration, where two great Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and three disciples. On that occasion the disciples were bidden to “listen to” Jesus (9:28-36). It also calls to mind the second Passion prediction which is about not really hearing what Jesus is saying: 44 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying (44-45).
Jesus is not just a prophetic teacher, he is the prophetic teacher par excellence. His teaching throughout the journey narrative is not concerned with merely predicting judgment or salvation-a truncated view of prophets and prophecy-but with how to attain the promised salvation and avoid the promised judgment.
23 And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them,
24 “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
Lord, will those who are saved be few?…Strive to enter the narrow door, &c. Notice that Jesus doesn’t just answer the question, he uses the question as an excuse to deliver a moral exhortation (strive), and a warning (Many…will seek to enter and not be able) a very prophet-like thing to do. This is rather characteristic of Jesus (e.g., 10:25-28; 12:41-48). Throughout the journey narrative questions and statements by people become the starting point for such exhortations (besides the passages just mentioned, see 9:57; 11:15, 27, 45; 12:13; 13:1).
Strive. The Greek word is agonizomai, from which comes our word “agony”. It was originally used in reference to athletic training and competition (see the Epistle for Sunday, August 22 which contains athletic images. See also the commentary on that reading by Bishop MacEvily, along with the note I appended to it at 12:12). To be agonistic means to be opposed to someone else, as happens, for example, in an athletic contest. Here the word agonizomai implies that those who strive to enter by the narrow door must do so in opposition to the many who will seek to enter and will not be able. The many are almost certainly to be taken as referring to the unrepentant and hypocritical so often criticized in the first part of the journey narrative (see above).
25 When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, `Lord, open to us.’ He will answer you, `I do not know where you come from.’
Householder. The image of the householder (or master of the house) has been used before, also in a context of judgment (12:35-48). It also prepares for several coming events and parables: Jesus, dining in the home of a leading Pharisee speaks a parable concerning invited guests and their host (14:1-14). The point of the parable is that we are to avoid ostentation and the seeking of honors. This is followed by an exhortation to show kindness to the poor. This is followed by another parable about a householder who gave a great feast but the invited guests did not come for (as they apparently saw it) they had better things to do. Because of this lack of response on the part of the invited guests the householder had the outcasts of society invited instead (14:24). A man must be first and foremost committed to Jesus, even in relation to members of his own household (14:25-26). A disciple, like an estate owner, must get his priorities in order (14:27-30). Like a king (here it would be well to recall that a royal dynasty was known as a house, see 2 Sam 7:11-12) a disciple should take care how he proceeds in warfare lest he be unsuccessful. Here the warfare image is probably also meant to relate to the theme of “striving.”
I have not exhausted the household image as it is presented in 14:1-17:10. See for example the references to house or estate in 15:5 (the lost sheep); 15:8 (the lost coin); the references to estate, property and house in 15:11-32 (the Prodigal Son); the Parable of the Dishonest Steward with its reference to “homes” in 16:4 (a steward is a servant put in charge of the running of a household). See the rich man’s reference to his Father’s house in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (16:19-31).
In one way or another all these passages have something to say to us about how to enter the narrow door mentioned in the previous verse.
When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door. At some point the narrow door will be shut and only then will the many really strive to enter. I’m reminded of a movie I once saw about Noah’s Ark. Noah warned the people of what was coming and begged them to repent, but they just mocked him and his boat building until the rains came. By then Noah was locked in the ark, forbidden to open the door to them, their time had passed.
I do not know where you ccme from. See note on verse 27, below.
26 Then you will begin to say, `We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’
Eating and drinking are also major themes in 14:1-17:10. I’ll not go through the list as I did with the theme of household (which theme is often tied to the theme of eating). I will remind you that our current reading, 13:22-30, is an introduction to 14:1-17:10, and with that in mind point out how that passage ends (in 17:7-10)~7 “Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, `Come at once and sit down at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’
We have no claim on God or His Christ, they have a claim on us and are able to make demands, as a result, hypocrisy, self-aggrandizement, self-seeking and the like are to be avoided.
27 But he will say, `I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’
I tell you, I do not know where you come from. They may have ate and drank in his presence (vs 26) but they were never truly his guests. He may have taught in their streets (vs 26)but they never really heard him. Perhaps it is quite telling that in vs 26 they do not say: you taught US in our streets. The time of his presence (vs 26), his visitation among them, is over, hence the words: depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.
28 There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out.
Jesus spoke these words in vss 24-30 to a Jew or Jews as a warning concerning the consequences of not heeding his teaching. St Luke has placed it in a context where it can serve as a warning to all the followers of Jesus down through the ages; but here its original context comes to the fore.
Many Jews, especially among the leaders, thought that they enjoyed a privileged status in regard to God and his judgments because of the promises made to their forefathers. St John the Baptist had sought to shake them from this notion (3:7-9), declaring that God could raise up children to Abraham from the very stones beneath their feet. Repentance (13:1-5; 15:7) and a committed faith working through love is what is necessary (14:13-14; 16:8-13). In a word, living in accord with the teaching of the Lord (10:38-42).
29 And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.
And men will come…and sit at table in the kingdom of God. A reference to Gentiles who will share the blessings promised to Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and the prophets mentioned in the previous verse.
30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.
In this context the some that are last who will be first are the Gentiles who have accepted Jesus, his gospel and its demands, the some that are first who will be last are the Jews who rejected these things. This fate of some Jews is certainly applicable to Christians who presume too much (see Luke 12:42-48; Romans 11:11-25; 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Pet 2:20-22).