21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


By: John Dalla Costa

At one of our last RCIA gatherings earlier this year, we experienced the prayerful immersion in scripture that is at the heart of the Catechesis of The Good Shepherd. Designed for very young children, this particular prayer used woodcut figures, including a tabletop miniature of an animal enclosure with a small gate, to enact the parable of the Good Shepherd. It took a while for my adult brain to surrender to the childlike cadence of this narrative in 3-D, but my heart leapt when one-by-one all the sheep followed Jesus through the gate into their protective enclosure.

I’ve usually interpreted this week’s gospel about “the narrow gate” as a warning. Jesus is saying that not everyone will make it into the safe space on the other side. Faith professed is insufficient. Only living discipleship with concrete deeds qualifies for passage.

But after the glimmer of wonder from the toy sheep, my adult interpretation of the narrow gate feels far too calculative. My heart especially no longer buys that the narrow gate is like a checkpoint where hypocrisy is finally exposed. Yes it’s needed to exclude evil. But more importantly, the narrow gate is for keeping us safe as we learn to love God, as God loves us.

Jesus ministry was defined by inclusion, welcoming everyone, always. What matters is not what we do to qualify for his acceptance, but how we accept him. The gate is therefore narrow not because God’s expectations are harsh, or because God’s mercy is limited, but because it is only as wide as Jesus himself.

The roughly carved figurine that will be used by children depicts Jesus carrying the lost lamb. My initial response was wanting to rest on those shoulders. But knowing Jesus, he is no doubt carrying the most reviled or vulnerable among us. The gate is narrow, but there is no need to scurry in. Once we know that imitating Jesus secures our right of way, we can imitate him here by taking care ourselves for those who are lost, until they too are safely home with our Lord.

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7; Luke 13:22-30