But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be? It’s a question we have thought about at different periods in our lives. What are the factors you consider when choosing where to live? Do you prefer urban, suburban or rural settings? Maybe you would choose to live where you feel most connected; near family or friends, or like one of us here at The Advent, near our spiritual home.
In a spiritual sense for Christians it is heaven. That is where God made us to be. That is where God calls all faithful Christians to be. I find that even those who are agnostic about belief in God, and I have met some self-proclaimed atheists, who have shared that they experience some sense of a longing for a place where peace of heart and mind exist. There is something in us that just longs for a home. Saint Paul is crystal clear in his letter to the Philippians about where the Christian’s true desire and longing should be: “…our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
When I think of places I want to live and the body politic that would suit me, I always think that it would be nice to live, not in just a state, but in a commonwealth. Four constituent parts of our republic purposely choose in their constitutions to conduct their political affairs as commonwealths: our own Massachusetts along with Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Virginia. “Commonwealth” has the ring of existing for the common good. ‘common’-the public and ‘wealth’ -that used to mean ‘one’s well-being’. to be wealthy meant sound, healthy, and good, not how much money one had amassed. So commonwealth is concerned with the public’s well-being. I like that. It has more of a spiritual grounding to it than belonging to the more secular-sounding “state”. There is more of an emphasis on the goodness or common good of all.
This commonwealth, this citizenship for Christians has us as members of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Establishing that kingdom is the reason Jesus is determined to get to Jerusalem as we see in today’s Gospel. Jesus is teaching how pressing it is to get into the kingdom and be saved. How earnest one’s determination ought to be to get into the kingdom and that it will be surprising who become members or citizens of the Kingdom.
I think this necessity of membership and the prominent place of the Kingdom of God is emphasized by Saint Luke. We just need to look at what Saint Luke writes just before and just after today’s description of entering by the narrow door and Jesus’ message to Herod and Jerusalem. Just before, we have Jesus calling all offenders to repent before they perish, then he purposely heals a woman on the Sabbath as if to say this is what happens in the Kingdom of God. (We are made well.) And then he describes life in the Kingdom as growing like a mustard seed and that the Kingdom grows like leaven in a loaf. Then immediately after our three scenes today, Jesus again, right in face of the lawyers and Pharisees, heals again on the Sabbath, and then has two parables of banquets, one at a marriage and one where everyone is invited. We ought to get the point that the Kingdom of God is the place we should want to live. It is the place Jesus wants to build by getting to Jerusalem and finishing his work.
So how do we get there and who else is there? When asked “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Jesus never answers the question. Jesus’ answer is not numerical, but attitudinal. Ours is not to know the number making it into the Kingdom, ours is to strive to get to the Kingdom. This by no means is intended to suggest that any work or effort of our own will get us in. It is only by faith through grace that gets us in. Our part, according to Jesus, is to “strive” to enter in by the narrow door. Striving in this sense means opening ourselves to an attitude of heart and mind that will prepare us to receive that grace. Our efforts will not supply the grace. Striving is derived from the Greek agonizomai from where we get the English word agony. The word originally described those who strain and struggle especially during an athletic contest or during exercise. It’s an easy connection between that kind of strain and stress to get to agony. We should do whatever we can to be part of the Kingdom.
In our Lenten disciplines we are attempting the same striving. Our efforts may not be agonizing in the contemporary sense of the word, but our efforts are aids and helpful exercises to incline our hearts and minds to God. He supplies the grace to heal us and draw us closer to him. So if you are keeping the communal Lenten discipline drawn up for The Advent, or if you have created your own Lenten disciplines, keep them up. It is difficult. It is a strain and you are doing the right thing and, by God’s grace, entering and living in the Kingdom of God.
Not only are we to strive for the Kingdom and go through its narrow door, but there will be some surprises when we survey the land and find out who else is there. Remember Jesus is teaching an almost entirely Jewish audience and tells them that they may be some of the ones who will not get in.
The ones who do not get in will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob there with all the prophets but the late ones will be thrust out. Then “men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the Kingdom of God. There will be some surprises about who is in and who is out. The important part is to make sure the effort is made to get in and the time to start is now.
Being close to Jesus will not count. Proximity to Jesus will not be enough. A person may know something about Jesus or talk about him a lot, or may do lots of things that look like something Jesus would do. None of these actions warrant any merit in the mind of God or help determine entrance into the Kingdom. Remember, the householder shut the door and said, “I do not know where you come from.” The people plead, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” This is not good enough. The householder will still declare, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!” Physical proximity will not do it. The listener must be open to Jesus’ teaching and hear it in his heart. Again, the attitude must be one of openness to letting the words form a new person and the longing for the Kingdom must be strenuously pursued.
Jesus loves us so much and it shows openly in his determination to get to Jerusalem and his lament over Jerusalem. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to perform the greatest acts of love the world has ever known or will ever know. Nothing will stop him from fully establishing the Kingdom of God here in the world by his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension; not the questioning crowds, not the Pharisees, not Herod, no one. He shows this love and compassion for Jerusalem itself. He truly wants to care even for all those who reject him and he describes how he would care for them even as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
To live in the place we are given to live in the Kingdom let Jesus be the narrow door. He has given us himself as the way to be greeted by the host at the heavenly banquet. And when he welcomes us it will be in a place where there is comfort, joy, and eternal bliss. Where would you like to live? That sounds like the perfect place.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.