21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes atheists try to describe Christians and Believers in God as a set of people who only believe because they seek comfort in the idea that there is life after death. This is a very one-sided and undeveloped idea of Christianity and Christians in general. Certainly, seeking comfort in God is a part of Christianity, but it is not limited to the life after death. When Jesus said; “come to Me all you who labour and I will give you rest”, He certainly never meant that He would with-hold His aid until we meet Him after death. This is shown by the life of prayer in the Church, and the many “ordinary” intentions we all pray for. Similarly, on the other hand the whole truth about our lives after death is not limited to an idea of comfortable bliss. The Church teaches that when we die we will come before the judgement seat of God and our eternal fates will be decided at that moment. The Church also teaches that nobody can presume to know that they will be saved or not.
This uncertainty is at the root of the French philosopher and mathematician Pascal’s wager. Pascal argued that if belief led to salvation and non-belief did not (of course this is a very simplistic understanding of the nature of salvation), then since one’s salvation or non-salvation is eternal, non-believers take an unreasonable risk with their eternal fate if God exists. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then believers and non-believers lose and gain very little. Hence, for Pascal it is reasonable to want to believe in God even if one does not do so, for who would not want eternal happiness?
The nameless person in the Gospel who asked “will there only be a few saved?”, is clearly someone who, if they are not worried about their own salvation, they are worried about the salvation of others. The answer that Jesus gives is interesting. He says; “try your best to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed”. There is one thing that Jesus is not doing and that is offering an easy and comfortable answer, so as to lead His questioner into a kind of complacency. Jesus does not want His questioner to be complacent and presumptuous about his salvation. Similarly, He does not want us to “assume” that we will reach heaven. He wants us to care deeply about our fates, because Jesus as God knows that eternal salvation is ultimately the most important thing for us.
The fact that Jesus does not want us to be complacent about our eternal fates, but rather hope and trust in Him, contradicts the assertion of non-believers that Christians only believe because it is comfortable to do so. The idea that one would not make it to heaven and would spend eternity in hell is a lot scarier than the atheist scenario where one’s existence just ends at death. At this point it is good to remember Pascal’s wager once more. The wager itself will not make someone believe, but it does provide motivation to *want* to believe. If one should wish to believe they need to do one thing. That is; ask for it. Faith is a gift from God, and it is in His power to help someone who does not believe. “Lord help me to believe, and help others to believe also”.
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”