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Twenty-first Sunday – Ordinary Time Cycle C

Reflecting on Luke 13:22-30

It turns out that the question of who gets into heaven and who doesn’t gets settled on the bus.  Well, not just any bus.  It’s that primordial bus that C.S. Lewis creates for us in his masterpiece, The Great Divorce. There we see ourselves as the fearful, suspicious, whiny, gossipy passengers who have boarded the bus between heaven and hell.  And guess what?  We can’t get into heaven because we won’t get off the bus.

And why should we?   We can see from our stuffy, boarded-up windows that SHE made it in, and we CERTAINLY aren’t interested in getting out if they let HER in, for heaven’s sake.  We’ll just sit right here, thank you just the same.

The grass in heaven is so strong it’s like walking on sharp knives when you’ve been such a cheat and such a fake your whole life that you’ve never built up any real integrity to give you strength.   And who can stand up to the rain in heaven?  It’s like getting hit with bullets when you’ve spent your whole life dodging responsibilities, or the outstretched hands of those who are poor.

But watch!  There are angels to help us step off the bus and take those first courageous steps towards humility, and forgiveness, and healing from addictions, and reunions with family members we’ve cheated or ignored or abused.  All it takes is the grace to give God permission to make us fit for heaven.

Lord, will only a few be saved? Perhaps the better question is Lord, will only a few WANT to be saved? Because heaven isn’t for sissies.  But heaven IS for those grateful souls who, in fear and trembling, take God’s hand and step off the bus.

Sharing God’s Word at Home

What are you working on changing so that you’ll be comfortable in heaven?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.

I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Ordinary Time - Cycle C

16 Comments to “Twenty-first Sunday – Ordinary Time Cycle C”

  1. I have just order the book by CS Lewis on my kindle. I keep thinking about my mother talking in her last days here on earth and dreaming about a train coming to pick her up and seeing a young child waving in the window. Anyway so much for the rambling I will read the book and re-reply. Thanks for the info.

  2. I had a discussion with our late pastor five years ago about who is going to heaven and who is not. He told me to let that be decided by God, because of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” End of conversation, right? Nope. John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” They condemn themselves.

    So, do you have to stand up publicly and denounce Jesus? Probably not. Do we accomplish that by our actions? A single action wouldn’t define us, but could a pattern that shows that we don’t truly believe condemn us?

  3. Wow! great question…what am I working on changing? A great Jesuit, Peter Favre said, “take care, take care never to shut your heart against anyone”. I think about this often. Jesus says to love those who persecute us. Love those who hate us? I pray for grace to see God in all creation. This is what I struggle with… what I am working on changing.
    Can I step off that bus? Only by the grace of God!

  4. “Take care never to shut your heart against anyone.” I am going to print this out and carry it with me all the time. I think it’s one of those things that’s so easy — until you are in the presence of another. Thanks for sharing this, Donna.

  5. Oh to pass through the narrow gate….there is so much I could let go of and change!! To truly live humbly, I most need to remove my sense of pride. Like Mary in her Magnificat in the past week’s reading, to turn all praise to God for what he accomplishes and to truly accept and realize that I can at most be a vessel of his mercy and grace.

    I really think emptying myself (of pride, self interest, worry, etc..) in order to be filled with the Spirit, is a challenge. If one can accomplish that and live in true humility, then shutting your heart wouldn’t be an option, nor would staying on that bus.


  6. Oh my goodness Kathy! So many contradictory thoughts and ideas run through my head (and heart) when I contemplate this question… I love the work of Fr. Richard Rohr and Fr. Ronald Rohlheiser and I think both would challenge us with the notion that ALL of God’s beloved children will be in heaven ~ ALL of us! I remember hearing Richard Rohr say, “we are all totally worthy and totally unworthy” as the beloved children of God. There is no “earning” any of the grace freely given by our loving Creator. And so, we all show up together, with all of our baggage, afraid to get off of the bus. God doesn’t keep us there, we keep ourselves there.

    As so many of your readers have shared, the learning and the work and the soul searching comes in letting go. It is in the surrendering of our fear and our pride and our neediness that allows us to get off the bus. Giving-in to truly knowing that we are nothing without the grace of God is what allows us to “pass through the narrow gate” or to “pass through the eye of the needle” or to “fall into the arms of our loving God.” We just are not very good at doing that, or I should say that “I am not very good at doing that!”

    And Kathy, one more thought about heaven… I know God as a loving parent, who I think probably looks at me and wonders why I so often choose the difficult path in my life, sometimes like I look at my own children, thinking “they could have picked an easier road but might have missed the lesson.” As a human parent, I cannot imagine ever damning my child to a life of pain or suffering or heartache for “choosing wrong.” God loves better, bigger and more fully than I can begin to comprehend! And so, how could our loving Creator ever damn one single beloved child to eternal suffering, no matter how horrendously sinful one’s life might have been (or is right now)? I just can’t believe that our God is capable of “not loving,” ever, in any circumstance…

    This is by no means an easy understanding of “heaven” and “hell” but rather an incongruency with which I continue to struggle. It seems that our “heavens” and our “hells” begin right here, right now, and sometimes we’re closer to one than the other, depending on our choices and our ability to surrender…

  7. That is an awesome visual…a bus from heaven to hell. And if you choose the wrong stop….watch out!! It shows how fickle we humans can be! Is “the bus” Purgatory?

  8. “The narrow gate/eye of the needle” vs.”the publicans, prostitutes, sinners will enter the kingdom first before the legalistic sanctimonious go thorugh” – – – a paradoxic thought to ponder….. – – Cris

  9. Cris, I like the paradox you propose because it make me think for a bit.

    In reflecting, I don’t see it necessarily as a true paradox. For me, the narrow gate means you have to be willing to let go of that which is holding you back, keeping you from heaven. I think sinners, protitutes, etc.. might find that more doable than the sanctimonious.

  10. Karen,

    I would say the issue has little to do with “God not loving” us. But instead, us not believing or loving him. As brebis galeuse quoted John 3:18 above, we condem ourselves.

    I will _always_ love my two sons. But that does not mean that they could choose a way of life (violence, crime, hate, …) that could keep us from being able to live together. I pray to God that it never happens.


  11. Kathy, this is to me so far your best reflection. The words that have stuck with me the most, and I hope they will for a long time, talk about having enough integrity to build up the strength for heaven. Also the question of having the ability to withstand the rain of heaven, when you’ve been dodging responsibilities on earth. Those are reminders for each moment of the day, as well as core things to consider when making big decisions. I haven’t read “The Great Divorce”, but I will now. I need to realize more fully the importance of each day, that it means so much eternally, that God has given us the time to prepare for the real thing, and saints everywhere, like CS Lewis and Kathy to give us clues about how to go about it. I pray that I remember to make every decision, big and small, for God.

  12. Father Pat began my thought process on this issue so long ago, when he asked in a sermon “are you ready to share heaven with Hitler?” As humans we have such difficulty forgiving others for their crimes (sins) against society. I pray daily for the love and humility to look forward to seeing Hitler and others, ie: Timothy McVeigh. Also, the wisdom to realize that it will be my reassurance of God’s unconditional love and mercy. I keep at it! A lifetime of teaching on the other end of the spectrum continues to add that small nagging fear, but it keeps getting better.

  13. Better late than never!! “Our/my” Father Pat, of MPB in Denver, had a homily that I believe will stay with me forever!! In talking about how “we” can look at one another and make such judgments as “that person will never be in heaven.” His little sardonic laugh and assurance that every toot-head, whom I most disdain, will be rubbing elbows with me! BUT, the crux of what he said, that has given me my own “come to Jesus meeting” is…”think about this…Heaven with YOU and no one else. You will get to spend eternity with YOU!” Thinking that I’m a fairly decent, kind person; my thoughts went immmediately to my many weaknesses and the bits of my personality that can sometimes bite me like a tiny wasp sting! Me and me in Heaven…for all eternity. SO MANY things to work on!! So
    little time! The idea kinda takes the uppity right out of me!!

  14. I searched for this, and found my notes from a retreat last year:
    Religion – for people who believe in Hell.

    Spirituality – for those who have been there.

    Heaven “is neither an abstraction not a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit,” Pope John Paul II, 21 July 1999.

    So, I continue to ask, if Heaven, and Hell,is not a place, but rather a state of being of a spirit or human soul, is it possible for one to experience both Heaven and Hell here on Earth? Believing in God’s infinite love and mercy, it’s hard for me to comprehend that eternal damnation is possible even for those who have committed heinous acts. As we enter into the purification state of being and God continues to call us home, I would like to believe that all of His creation will ultimately be re-united with Him. Naive? Possibly, but a comfortable place to be.

  15. When I was a child, I rode the bus more often than I do now. I can remember the stop-go experience of a city bus, with people getting on or off. Exact change dropped into a glass coin-meter made it less time consuming to get on. Sometimes the bus was empty and there was a lot of room. Other times the bus was crowded or even over crowded with people’s knees bumping or with backsides squeezing an extra person onto the seat. Every once in a while, someone stood to let an elderly person, a pregnant woman or one with a couple kiddies sit down. Occasionally, people who were lucky enough to sit, held packages on their laps for those who stood hanging on for dear life with their hands wrapped around a pole or in a dangling loop suspended from the roof of the motor coach. It was easy enough to pull the cord and disembark when the bus was not crowded. But when it was, not only did one have to say, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me,” while moving through the multitude, but there were times when leaving through the rear exit caused the traveler have to shout to the bus driver, “Open the door again, please,” so as not to miss the stop. People knew their destination and how to get there. They wanted to get where they were going so they followed the rules, put up with some inconveniences and kept moving. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the same applied to everyone on the way to heaven?
    Thanks, Kathy, for the challenging question about what I’m changing so that I might be comfortable in heaven. There seems to be one answer, accepting people for who they are when they don’t live up to my expectations. (Maybe even letting go of expectations…) The cashier who talks to a fellow customer service rep while ringing up my groceries and who doesn’t even seem to notice that I’m standing right there. The person who calls my friends and me “guys” when we are very definitely and visibly women. The woman who has taken a bath in perfume/cologne and causes the entire busload of people to wear her scent when we get off.
    Is it just tolerance or is it bigger than putting up with a person or situation? Is it acceptance? Unconditional positive regard? Love? What I’m working on changing is the way I love God, other people and myself. I’m trying to live that commandment of loving with my whole heart, mind, soul, person, so that I’m not going to miss my chance of getting off the bus because of all those “HE’s and SHE’s.” It means being mindfully conscious of the face of Christ in each of the people that I connect with whether by choice or circumstance. My actions and attitudes are my responsibility. I’m trying to love God because God IS and to accept that God loves me just because it’s what God does—LOVE. So I attempt to regard myself through the eyes of compassion and self-acceptance.
    What you said about giving “God permission to make me fit for heaven,” speaks so clearly to me. It reminds me to cooperate with the grace of the day in the midst of the joy and sorrow, abundance and loss, fullness and emptiness, hurt and forgiveness. Your challenge helps me recognize who I am in the midst of it all and offers a world of possibilities for all that I can be.

  16. Bobbie, thank you for a beautiful reflection. So much to absorb . . .

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