Sister Ann Hayden, M.M.
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalms 117:1, 2; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

Maryknoll Sister Ann Hayden reflects on the way to God's "holy mountain."

Today’s scripture readings speak to God’s fidelity and steadfast love for us, as mentioned in Psalm 117. 

The first reading from Isaiah describes the gathering of all nations and tongues “to my holy mountain…just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord.”   What a vision of hope and promise God holds out to all peoples.  So much so that when we read in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews about God’s discipline seeming to be painful in our times of struggle in life, we are counseled by Paul to respect God’s efforts to build-up our strength so that our struggles do not leave us defeated, but rather bear for us, in time, the fruits of peace and faith. Struggle is what the people, with whom I minister, experience every day.  As a member of the pastoral team of St. Anne Parish in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, I learn from them of God’s discipline and the fruits of faith and peace in my own life.

At the U.S.-Mexico border there is a long history of disputes over the lands on either side of the Rio Grande River.  Un-scrutinized history has a way of changing the names and borderlines of places, and of mixing cultures, faiths and the stories of innocence and guilt into tangles of misunderstanding which contribute to today’s border issues.   We, as people of faith called to kindness, justice, and humble openness to God’s presence among us, cannot afford to lose sight of the persons around us who live extraordinary lives of daily struggle now.   We must hear and re-tell the everyday, simple human stories of strength, pain, joy and family love that fill every home, every church, every mosque and temple, wherever that is for us, in this time, on this ‘holy mountain’ of God.

The Evangelist Luke, in today’s Gospel, gives us clues about what it costs to take our place on the holy mountain of God; to become clean, empty vessels ready for the grain; or to enter through the narrow door, as Jesus says.  From this story of Jesus’ response to the question put to him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” we might imagine that there might be a ‘hoard’ of people pushing at the narrow door to enter the reign of God; that there might be a waiting list; and that it might come down to presenting our credentials, our stamped book of good works, or our photo ID in order to be allowed into the kingdom of God.   We would probably laugh at that image knowing in our hearts that God would never treat God’s children that way.  More sobering is the idea that others might get in before us – the first will be last and the last will be first.  This also reminds me of the story of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Matthew in which we are reminded to stay awake, to use our gifts for the benefit of others, and to do the works of mercy for the least among us without exception.

The distinct note in Luke’s gospel story is that Jesus does say the door to the kingdom is narrow.   We will not be able to pass with the baggage of old hurts and hates, nor with an accumulation of good works, nor with the trappings of wealth; and we will not be able to “jump the line” by name dropping or social recognition. 

What will the narrow door cost us? What will discipleship and friendship with Jesus cost us?  Are we perhaps meant to stand naked before the narrow door, with our hearts filled only with a hope that allows us to stand before all that is - uncovered, un-armed, and exposed? Are we meant to follow the example of Jesus, with outer garments removed for service; kneeling humbly before friend and foe alike; intimate with frail need and restless poverty; powerless, obedient before the narrow door, and stripped of all that hides truth before the naked love of God; waiting until God’s truth alone invites us to rise up through the narrow door into the Light of Christ? 

Let us live our lives together in unrelenting hope, in shared pain and peace, in remembering together the stories of our lives, in always coming to know Jesus in new ways, and in longing to put on the Risen Christ every day in the still-unfolding story of the narrow door in each of our lives. 

Photo by Sister Ann Hayden.