Spirituality of the Readings
The parable Jesus tells us this Sunday seems a total contradiction of the one he told only four weeks ago, (17th Sunday of the year). Let us look at these two stories, because our spiritual life is profoundly affected by the difference.
In the earlier parable Jesus told about a man knocking on a friend’s door at midnight to borrow some bread. Notice that this is not just anyone, but a friend. The man inside yelled back as follows:
Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.
Jesus continues the story:
I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.
Doesn’t it feel good knowing that constant prayer will get the door opened?
Well hold your feelings back awhile and look at the Gospel for the present Sunday. Here again, someone is knocking on the door late at night. But this time the master of the house says, ‘I do not know where you are from.’
The answer from the outside is, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
In other words, if anything, we are casual acquaintances.
I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!
Ouch. What about “ask and you shall receive”? As if to rub it in, Jesus applies this Sunday’s parable as follows:
There will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see the saved ones—
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets—
looking down from heaven
while you are being cast out!*
Cast out? Wailing? What is going on here? Is Jesus in a bad mood?
No. Here is the difference.
The parable from the 17th Sunday specified that God was our friend, and therefore we could ask for whatever we need. If for no other reason, he would open the door just to get the noise stopped. And of course, there was a reason for the late hour: the emergency that a friend had come unexpectedly.
On the other hand, the parable for this Sunday shows people who do not know the home-owner at all. Apparently they know about him only from hearing him teach in the streets! Their knocking comes at midnight only because they were too busy partying to get there earlier.
In light of these two parables, we ask ourselves a question. Are you and I friends to Jesus, or just people who have heard his preaching? God will open the door to us if we are there not just for the sake of curiosity or pure selfishness.
We must permit ourselves to be friends with God. If we do not open to such a friendship, for whatever reason(s), God will reluctantly respect our decision: that we are just curiosity seekers who only want a cheap friendship.
So, get to know God now. Start agreeing to the covenant he keeps offering. Do not delay till you get to heaven’s gate and have only this to say for yourself: ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
*A minor notice: I re-worded this paragraph because the lectionary’s translation is not good English. It says, “And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.” This translation sounds like a list of those who will be cast out, including Abraham and the others. This does not make sense.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University