August 25, 2019 – Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-13; Luke 13:22-30
This homily was originally delivered at St. Pius X Church, Indianapolis in August 2013:
I have a 3-year-old grandson, a 4-month old granddaughter, and another grandchild due to arrive in January (three different families). One of the things I look forward to is the day when I can start giving my grandchildren advice. My own kids are grown up, so they don’t listen to me any more. It will be nice to have my grandchildren as a new audience for my wisdom and sage advice.
My Grandpa Jack was very good at giving advice, or at least he enjoyed doing it. There was an arcade down the street from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. When we would visit, Grandpa would have a list of jobs for us to do. If we did them, he would give us some change to go down to the arcade and play some games. As we were working, we would of course complain, because that’s what kids do when they work. Grandpa Jack had an expression he would use at those times. He would say: “If it’s worth getting, it’s worth working for.”
That advice has always stuck with me. If you want it bad enough, you should be willing to work for it. We really wanted to go to the arcade, so doing all those jobs for Grandpa was worth it.
Grandpa Jack’s words came back to me as I read today’s scripture passages. In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear, “Endure your trials as discipline; all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” And in Luke’s Gospel: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
When we put these two readings together, the message seems quite clear: We must put in the work; we must persevere; or as Pope Francis has told us, “Swim against the tide; it’s good for the heart, but it takes courage.” And when we do these things – put in the work, persevere, and swim against the tide – we earn the gift of eternal life.
But it’s not that simple, is it? The work is difficult and it never lets up. The tide of society that we must swim against is very strong.
Society says do what feels good. God says do what is pleasing to Him.
Society says serve yourself. God says serve others.
Society says live in the moment. God says live for eternal life.
You get the idea. Society offers the easier path. We can wear ourselves out just trying to do the right thing when there are so many options that are easier.
It can really begin to eat away at us.
I know I have spoken of this in previous homilies – the concept of Jesus “locking eyes” with us. That phrase captures how I feel when I suddenly realize I am heading down the wrong path. The image of Jesus taking my head in His hands and “locking eyes” with me. He doesn’t need to say a word. His look alone tells me that I need to re-focus and get myself back on track.
There are days that we feel drained, worn out from keeping God’s work as the priority in our lives. On those days, we want to take Jesus’ head in our hands, look Him in the eyes and say, “I can’t do this any more! It’s too much. I am overwhelmed. The cross you have given me is too heavy.” Why can’t we let up some times? Why can’t we relax? Why do we have to earn everything we get? Why can’t we just go to the arcade sometimes without working for it?
We want to tell Jesus: We don’t know what you want from us! We don’t understand what we are being called to do. To what vocation are You leading us?
We are working so hard to be good parents. The kids get older but parenting never seems to end. No matter their age, we are always worried about them, their lives, their decisions, and the strength of their faith.
We have aging parents who need us. They gave so much to us growing up; we know we need to help them. We love them, but they need more than we can give. It never ends.
We are constantly worried about money. Will we have enough to pay the bills this month? We are working as much as we can, but there never seems to be extra.
We find ourselves getting weaker and tempted to go down the wrong path. We don’t feel strong enough to swim against the tide much longer. All this is going on in our lives, and yet our faith calls us to give even more. But we only have so much time and so much love to give and we are tapped out.
We want to tell Jesus all of these things. We want to let it all out, but we don’t. We fear Jesus will reject us or see us as weak.
Well, here’s a news flash: Jesus already knows we are weak. He wants us to come to Him with our struggles. He wants us to unload on Him. He locks eyes with us when we lose focus and become self-centered, but when we tell Him we are feeling vulnerable and depleted, He pulls us into His loving arms. He calls us to “come away and rest awhile.” He tells us that He will take on our burden. He assures us that others will step up too; others will be our Simons of Cyrene.
And when we have had the time we need, and taken our rest, He will again lock eyes with us and tell us, “It’s time.” Then we will pick up our cross, and get back to work because we know it is the right thing to do. Refreshed and renewed, we may even see others around us who are feeling overwhelmed and are saying to Jesus, “I can’t do this any more!” When we see that, we will go to them, and see what we can do to help lighten their load.
And so the journey continues for a disciple of Christ. Doing the work of God is difficult, but the pay-off is worth it. Or as Grandpa Jack said, “If it’s worth getting, it’s worth working for.”