Sunday, Aug. 25, is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117:1-2; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30.

Today’s Gospel reading includes the Lord’s teaching on hell, and the wisdom of Holy Mother Church has given us the other readings today to help us better understand what Jesus is teaching us.

In St. Luke’s Gospel someone asks Jesus, “Will only a few people be saved?” Jesus does not answer the question directly but exhorts his disciples to “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Implied in this first part of his response is that we should labor to enter heaven but that there may be more than one way to get into heaven. We should strive for the narrow gate, presumably the more difficult path, because “many … will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” By striving for the narrow gate we have a better chance of salvation.

Again, his is not a direct answer to the question. Jesus says many will try. Many will fail. But perhaps Our Lord chose to answer this way because he knew that while he couldn’t say that there would be “a few,” if he said many would be saved, his disciples would grow lax.

Certainly, the Lord’s desire is that many be saved. In the first reading the prophet Isaiah tells the People of God that they will be sent out to the “distant coastlands” in order to proclaim to them who God is. Then “brothers and sisters from all the nations” will be brought to the Lord. The Lord God comes “to gather nations of every language.” Thus the Lord desires the salvation of people from all the nations, not just a few. This is why the responsorial Psalm for the day is “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”

However, in answer to those who would presume a universal salvation of all, who claim that the threat of damnation is inimical to a loving God, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us about the nature of a father. “What ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?” and “Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.”

Fathers discipline their children because they wish to make their children free. Every child has the capacity to choose, but a good father knows that it is the ability to choose the good specifically that makes one free. If we are all destined to heaven despite our choices here on earth, then there is no choice.

If we are not free to choose ourselves, then we are not free to love. It is love that Our Lord desires of his children.

God’s love for us requires that he let us know that damnation is a possibility. Therefore, Jesus’ exhortation that we strive for the narrow gate is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. In light of the question asked, the invitation is that we not concern ourselves with judging who will or will not be saved. Doing so can lead to a sense of self-importance, about which Jesus warns at the end of the Gospel. Rather, we are invited to remember that Jesus desires our salvation even more than we want it for ourselves. So let us strive in earnest with him.

Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon

in the Archdiocese

of Omaha, Nebraska.

He is the president and

co-founder of the

Evangelium Institute.