God's Saving Power Is for Everyone

08-25-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

It is so hard to believe that the new school year is not just approaching, but for some of our young people school has already started. Parents have loaded up SUVs with “stuff” for our young college and university parishioners, and have driven them off to their new residence for the next 8 months. Some local schools have begun sports practices and some schools have actually opened and launched the new school year. New learning has begun for so many of young people that we forget that we who are over “university age” also must continue to learn and grow in many and various ways. As followers of Jesus, we are invited to walk in his ways and also continue to learn more from him.

Our first reading this weekend suggests a vision of universal salvation that is quite exotic. The passage mentions so many distant and mysterious places of old that we can only imagine the beauty and distinctiveness of each place: Mosoch, Javan, Tarshish, Put, Lud, and far distant Tubal. The vision also includes the practical: traveling by foot or wheel. Indeed these far distant and mysterious people stream forth. Everyone is welcome, the known and the unknown. This indeed is a contrast to our Gospel passage.

Jesus continues to move around in this gospel. He passes through cities and towns as he makes his way to Jerusalem. He seems to stop hither and thither, teaching as he goes and attracting a great amount of attention. As a result of his teaching, people end up wondering who will be saved. They ask: “Only a few?" while in their hearts and minds they hope the opposite is true. In hearing what Jesus said, probably many of them thought they could never be part of the kingdom. Maybe they hoped for a loophole or a special exception.

The parable of Jesus does not answer this question directly. He tells them when the latecomers find they are too late, the master, who has locked the door, will remind them that all their lives they have not known him. Everyone wonders down to this day to whom Jesus was referring. Who, then, is being told that it’s too late?

We often forget that Salvation is not contingent upon strenuous human effort, as if everything depends on us and heaven is ruled by a stingy God who is really a Certified Public Accountant. Jesus tells us that you do not get to heaven by trying to get through a passageway designed just for people. Nor is the kingdom granted to people by virtue of some special privilege of birth. We learn that the kind of salvation Jesus offers is not like that. God’s salvation is not a matter of human effort, a randomness of class or a stroke of good luck. We must note clearly that the entrance of God’s saving power does require a human response. And this response must be a free acceptance or it has absolutely no meaning, just as forced love has no meaning and actually does not exist. When the hand of Christ is extended, our hand must reach out freely and be there to grasp his.

We know that Jesus passed through a defined place in a defined time in human history. Salvation, however, is not just for a special few at one special defined time and place. The saving power of God is for everyone, anywhere and at any time. The critical matter is that it is up to us to accept the salvation that Jesus offers.

To reach out and take the welcoming and strengthening hand of Jesus is an act of a disciple (whose Latin root means “learner”). Indeed, we must learn who is standing before us with an outstretched hand.