The readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time are about the Lord gathering people from the corners of the earth into one kingdom. If we are going to all have to live together as one in unity forever, we have to allow the Lord to change all of us. That is a tall order and only Jesus can do it.
That means each of us must allow the Lord to change us profoundly. This happens slowly over a lifetime. For this to happen, we need the gift of perseverance.
On the farm, in 1948, my father, three brothers and I learned about perseverance. Together, we harvested 90 acres of wheat. The binder would cut the stalks of wheat and put them into bundles about one foot in diameter. We gathered about 20 bundles into one shock, and about 15 shocks per acre. This meant we had to shock about 27,000 bundles of wheat. We worked in the hot sun day after day until we completed the job.
In the Gospel, Jesus is teaching His disciples about the final harvest. Someone asks Him: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answers by saying: “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.’”
Those who aren’t strong enough haven’t allowed the Lord to help them overcome their selfishness and sins. Without loving God and neighbor, we can’t live together in a kingdom of peace for all eternity.
However, “people will come from the east and west and from the north and the south and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” That means a lot of people have persevered in allowing Jesus to transform them.
The second reading continues the theme of perseverance. “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges.”
Profound changes have to take place in us before we can enter into eternal glory. These profound changes will happen within us as we obey the word of God. “God’s word is keener than a two-edged sword … .” Every time we submit to the changes the word of God offers, we grow in holiness and peace.
God alone knows how much we have to change if we are to live in peace with everyone else in heaven. That is why the Lord places us in the midst of people who are different from us, people who challenge and surface the unredeemed within us. Placing us in difficult situations, which challenge our thinking, behavior and feelings, is a sign of God’s love for us. It makes us more ready to accept the Godliness that He has to offer us.
Every time someone rubs us the wrong way, God gifts us with the grace to embrace Him and to allow Him to change our hearts. In embracing the pain of change, we embrace the pain of His love. God invites us to grow in perseverance.
Rejoice that you find the evening news very painful. So does Christ. We don’t find our peace in railing angrily against perpetrators of evil, but in working with Christ for their salvation. When Jesus said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” He knew how much suffering is involved in bringing children up in a very dark world.
The glory of this is that Christ is in our suffering and we are in His suffering, redeeming mankind. Suffering for the sake of the kingdom is really glorious. We are frustrated when people don’t think like us or live our values, but know that when we live the values of Christ, our very way of living brings them plenty of frustration. Hopefully it will help lead them into the kingdom.
Every time we allow the word of God to challenge our way of living and thinking, we are being transformed more and more into Christ. This is what brings us peace. Our role in a dark world is to live Christ’s values and allow Him to use our suffering for the sake of saving us and others.
If your own weaknesses, coupled with the weakness of others with whom you live, really bothers you, rejoice because Christ isn’t yet satisfied with your spiritual growth either, but He is thrilled that you hang in there with Him and allow Him to love you in the midst of your own weaknesses.
The secret to joyful living is to accept that God created us in weakness. Paul said: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”
I do not grow in holiness by turning against myself because of my sins, but by turning outward to Jesus who accepts me for the klutz that I am, and Who loves me where I am, but will not leave me there. I rejoice even more that Christ will challenge me day by day to grow closer to Him.
So, growing in holiness demands daily perseverance and trust in God. We need to trust Jesus that He knows what He is doing, and that, if we persevere, eternal glory will be ours.