22 April 2024

There's a temptation through that gate

4th Week of Easter (M)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Yesterday we heard Jesus say that his is the only name under heaven given for the salvation of the human race. This morning we hear him say, I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved...” Given that we are well-catechized and faithful Catholics, our reaction to these truths is something like: “Yeah. And?” But back in his day such claims were beyond heresy, beyond blasphemy. No mere man could be I Am Who Am, Creator of the universe and Savior of the People. Flesh and bone could not contain the voice that spoke to Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets. It was sacrilege to say otherwise. Nowadays, it seems heretical, blasphemous, and sacrilegious to proclaim that the Christ is the only name given for our salvation. That he is the sheep gate through which we enter the fold. Religious thought and practice is so diverse, so varied that we can't possibly say there is only one way to get to heaven. To be considered tolerant and thus cosmopolitan, we are told that we must instead think of God, heaven, and salvation as a mountain upon which there are many paths leading to the top. All paths are equally good, true, and beautiful. Choose a path and walk it with integrity.

But Jesus says, “...whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” Saying that sort of thing out loud won't get you invited to the best cocktail parties. But say it we must. The truth is always pastoral. Lying is never an option for a faithful witness. We should though consider why some might want us to deny Christ's claim to exclusive ownership of the keys of heaven. There's the practical: what about the billions of people who are not Christian? What happens to them? There's the religious: the pre-Christian religions prefigured Christ, so can't we say that Christ is prefiguring something beyond himself? There's the philosophical: since we are always learning, always unveiling truth, is it possible that there are new truths waiting to be revealed? And there's a dozen other categories that object to the exclusivity of Christ's claim. But I think there's one objection that we need to take more seriously than any of the others. Isn't such a claim – that Christ if the only means of salvation – a temptation for Christians to become arrogant, prideful, and maybe even bullying about their status as Christ's sheep? Yes, yes it is.

And we've seen this temptation victorious over the Church many times through the centuries. Combining worldly power, wealth, and arrogance has led us too many times to conclude that as Christ's sheep we are just better than Those People and therefore justified in dominating them, exploiting them. This is not the Gospel. Christ freely offers salvation to those who will repent, believe, follow his commands, and bear witness. He makes all this possible by gracing us with all that we need to see and hear his Good News. Our job as his followers is to show the world the concrete effects of being his followers. Freedom from sin. Freedom from eternal death. Freedom from anxiety and worry. We are to be the signs and wonders of his joy, his love, his mercy. There is no room in us for arrogance or pride. What little room our joy leaves us is filled with praise and thanksgiving for being given our freedom. Given our freedom. Not earned. Not bargained for. Given. We've done nothing to deserve our salvation. So what could we possibly be arrogant or prideful about? Christ is the only name given for our salvation. He is the only way into the fold. Ask yourself: am I holding the gate open, or locking it behind me? 

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