Our nation has a love affair with numbers. I remember when an Ivory soap bar was advertised to be 99 and 44/100ths percent pure. Sounds very pure, doesn't it? We remember a recent presidential candidate who got in trouble for a remark about 47% of the American people. Number '1' is the most prized number in sports competition and in the business world : 'Number 2' not so much! Numbers are very important to pollsters, to mathematicians and accountants. Yet in today's Gospel, when a bystander asks Jesus a question about numbers "Will only a few be saved?" Jesus tells him that whether "few" or "many" isn't an important concern. The important concern is ones own relationship with God; and that relationship requires total attention.
Today's Gospel can frighten us. Jesus says: "Many of you assume that you'll be sitting down at God's salvation banquet just because you've been in the neighborhood all your lives. One day you'll be knocking on the door to get in, but the door will be locked and you'll hear the Master saying, 'Sorry, you're not on my guest list!'" Imagine the people hearing Jesus' words in that crowd: "What do you mean, 'we're not on your guest list'? We've been faithful Jews all our lives. We're Abraham's descendents! God's chosen ones. We eat kosher. We follow the cleansing rituals. We attend synagogue and read the Torah. We observe Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, we tithe faithfully to the Temple. We're good people! Let us in!"
Now suppose we update this Gospel scene! Jesus speaks to us here and now: "Many of you assume you'll be sitting at God's salvation banquet just because you've been in the neighborhood all your lives. One day you too will be knocking at the door to get in, but the door will be locked and you'll hear the Master say, "Sorry, you're not on my guest list." We will protest, "How can we not be on your guest list? We are baptized. We attend church and support it financially. We follow the commandments : at least much of the time. We observe Christmas and Easter. We know you, Jesus. We're good people! Let us in!"
But the Master replies to both groups, to the Jewish people in the Gospel and to us today: "Your kind of knowing means nothing. You don't know the first thing about me. You will be strangers, left out in the cold. You'll watch your prophets march right into the kingdom : the very people you persecuted. You'll watch outsiders stream in from all directions to sit at my banquet table. But you will remain outside looking in, wondering what happened: the ones who were last, coming to the banquet while those first in line, the so-called favorites, end up outside."
Why does Jesus say this? Because we really don't know him. We think we do, but we don't. We think Jesus came to be honored. He did not. He came to serve. We think Jesus came to be adored. He did not. He came to be Bread and Wine for our journey. By inviting us to join his company, he expects us to be of one mind and one heart with him. He is the singular Man of peace and compassion, gratitude and and forgiveness. His invitation: learn from me! To follow him means to live as he lives, to love as he loves, reaching out to the needy without exception. It means not holding a grudge. It means being thankful, not resentful. It means being a healing presence for others. Whenever we refuse to help others because we consider them "lazy and irresponsible," we are saying we really don't know Jesus.
One day guaranteed, you and I will be knocking at the door to God's salvation Banquet. Whether or not we get in depends upon whether or not we are faithful disciples of Jesus. And whether or not we are faithful disciples depends upon how sincerely we follow this singular Man in our lives, whether or not we have matured into his people of peace and compassion, gratitude and forgiveness. Most importantly, our entry to the Banquet depends upon how well we've lived Jesus' greatest command: to love God and love each other just as Jesus loves us! At this banquet, numbers are really not important. The quality of our love is!