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The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Will Only a Few Be Saved?

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And then he goes on to give a parable (or an analogy) to try to exemplify this and it’s the parable of the householder and then of the banquet of the kingdom. So there are two kinds of related parables, they blend into one another with similar imagery, but let’s just walk through them together. So the first one he gives is the image of a householder. So he says, “when once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you’re going to stand outside and you’re going to knock and say, ‘Lord, open to us’ And he’s going to say, ‘I do not know where you come from.’" And then the people respond and say, “Well wait, what do you mean ‘you don’t know us’? We ate and drank in your presence. You taught in our streets.’” And so he repeats it again, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from, depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!”

Alright, so what’s going on here? Well the image that Jesus is using here is that salvation (the kingdom of God) is like a feast that’s taking place (a banquet) in somebody’s house, and you’re trying to get into the banquet but the householder (meaning the owner of the house, the host of the banquet), when he opens the door to you, he says two things: “I don’t know where you come from” (first of all), and then second, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!”

So let’s look at the first one. “I don’t know where you come from” basically is a way of saying that you’re strangers to the host. He doesn’t know not just who you are, but your origins (where you’re from). That’s the first point. Now, what’s interesting about that is the people trying to get into the house say, “well, hold on. We’re acquaintances (you know), we’ve eaten and drunk in your presence before. We’ve heard you preach in our streets.” So it doesn’t mean they’re completely ignorant of the host. They’ve heard him preach and they’ve actually sat at his table. But for some reason, he now says to them, “I don’t know you.” Well why doesn’t he know them? That’s the surprising part of the parable. Well the answer to that comes in the last line when he says “depart from me, you workers of iniquity.” So why is it that the householder doesn’t know them? Well obviously in this case, it’s not an ordinary story of trying to go to someone’s house for a banquet. It’s an allegorical parable. The householder here represents either God or the Messiah as host of the banquet, the house and the feast taking place inside represents the kingdom of God, and then the people who are knocking on the door but not getting in represent the people Jesus just described who are trying to get into the kingdom of God but they can’t. So what’s the problem? Well the last line tells you. You’re a worker of iniquity.

So what keeps them out of the kingdom of God? It’s their sin. It’s that they are doers of evil. Which again, think about this, this parallel is exactly what we just saw in an ancient Jewish tradition from the Mishnah. What are the groups that are excluded from the world to come that the rabbis gave as examples? Well they were all sinners, like grave sinners. The generation of the flood, the sodomites, the wicked people who in Jerusalem who lead to the Temple being destroyed, the ten northern tribes who worship the golden calf, these are all people who committed grave sins; workers of iniquity. And therefore their sin kept them out of the world to come. The same thing’s true here with Jesus. It’s their iniquity, their work of doing evil that keeps them out of the banquet of the kingdom of God. Now this is really crucial to grasp because what it shows here is something very important, mere acquaintance with a Messiah or with God is not enough. Listening to Jesus preach and teach in the streets of Galilee or Capernaum or Bethzaire isn’t enough. He has to know you and you have to leave the life of sin behind and enter into a real communion with him.  There’s actually a parallel version of this that makes that clear in Matthew 7 (another sobering saying of Jesus but a little more famous than the Lukan version). It’s Matthew 7:21, where Jesus says:

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’"

So notice the two elements there. When a person doesn’t follow the will of the Lord and doesn’t obey the teachings of Jesus, it breaks communion with him. And so what he says is, “I never knew you.” That’s the real criterion for getting into the banquet of the kingdom of God, to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, for him to know you. That’s why he uses the image of a householder. You’re not just going to welcome anybody into your banquet in the middle of the night, but if you know that person you’re going to say “come on inside.” And so what Jesus is saying here is you thought you knew me because you heard me preach, and we might have even shared a table together, but because you were a worker of iniquity, I don’t know where you come from. I don’t really know you and therefore you can’t enter into the glory of the kingdom.

Very serious, very somber, very tough teachings of Jesus here. He’s not mincing any words about the necessity (note this) of obedience for salvation. This parable here, we’re looking at Luke, really blows out of the water the idea that faith alone (in the sense that all I have to do is believe and it doesn’t matter how I live and that’s enough for me to be saved)…that’s just not the teaching of Jesus in the gospels. He’s very clear that you have to hear him preach, you have to believe in him, call him Lord, but you also have to obey him and you can’t be a worker of iniquity. And to press on the point, Jesus then moves into an even more explicit image of the banquet when he says, “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.” So here the image is of the kingdom as a banquet and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets, they’re all sitting at table but you are going to be cast out. Now notice what Jesus is doing there. It’s very powerful...

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