August 22, 2010
Human science has achieved remarkable advances during our lifetime. There are many serious diseases that have been conquered. Animals have been successfully cloned, and with the progress that is being made on the human genome project, scientists are coming close to being able to engineer and initiate life. So it is probably only a mild surprise that at a recent scientific conference, a resolution was passed to assert that God was no longer needed. The president of the society made an appointment with God to deliver the bad news. As he was ushered into God’s presence, he first recounted all the achievements that human ingenuity had accomplished.
He ended by saying, “God, I would like to thank you on behalf of humanity for all the centuries that you guided us and were involved in our lives. But the truth is, you are no longer needed. It’s time for you to go.”
God listened to this whole presentation very patiently. When it was over, he said, “Well, I understand your position. But I think that before we sever ties completely, it might be good for us to test whether you’re really able to make it on your own. So if you’re willing, I would propose a small contest. I’d like to see whether you would be able to create a human person as successfully as I have been able to do.”
“No problem,” said the scientist. “I’m confident that we can do it.”
“Now this won’t be easy,” said God, “because what I would ask you to do is to create someone just as I created Adam, out of the dust of the earth.”
“Well,” said the scientist, “we have not been able to do that yet, but I am sure that with a little bit of time we will succeed. So I confidently accept your wager.”
“Fine,” said God. “Go ahead. Start.”
So the scientist smiled and he stooped down and took a handful of dirt into his hands.
“Wait a minute,” said God, “Go find your own dirt!”
We are talented and good people. We have been able to accomplish many things because of our efforts and our abilities. But because of those very things it is easy for us to forget that all that we have and all that we have accomplished would be impossible had not God first blessed us—had not God first given us dirt. Because we are successful, it is easy for us to imagine that our ultimate union with God, our salvation, primarily rests upon our own good actions and works. We can forget that here, as in all things, we are totally dependent on God’s graciousness.
This is the idea we should keep in mind as we listen to today’s gospel, as we hear someone ask Jesus from the crowd, “Are there few who are going to be saved?” It is important to catch the implication of that question. The implication is this, “Are there only a few to be saved besides me?” You see the question is posed with confidence. The questioner is confident he is going to be saved, but he is wondering about everyone else. Why does he think he will be saved? Because he is a good person, because he’s a person of faith, because he is a part of God’s people. Jesus’ harsh response to this question, his insistence that we have to enter through the narrow gate, does not imply that salvation is rare or that God is stingy in granting it. It is meant to shock the confident questioner so that he remembers that his future and his salvation with God is totally dependent on God’s free choice.
This answer by Jesus is important for us as well, because we are good people. We say our prayers. We love our family and friends. Because of those good things which we rightfully and appropriately do, we sometimes forget that, despite all of our achievements, we are still radically dependent on what God has given us. Jesus’ command to enter through the narrow gate is not telling us we need to do more or we need to do something more difficult. It is calling us to a particular perspective, to a way of looking at our relationship to God. It is calling us to realize that everything we have, both our past, present and our future, depends on God’s free grace.
How much more richly would you and I live if we really adopted this perspective. When you wake up in the morning in a comfortable and secure house, you can feel some satisfaction that you are there because your hard work and savings have provided this place for you. But you also need to remember that it is only because God gave you life, abilities, and talents that you have been able to work. Therefore your house is dependent on God’s free gift. When you look at your children growing into responsible adults, you can feel pride that you sacrificed for them and guided them. But you also need to be grateful that somehow they made it through the dangers of high school and college and negotiated the temptations of society to live and to become the people that they are. That gift is totally dependent on God’s graciousness. When any of us look to the future, we can feel satisfaction that we have planned for retirement. We can look forward and feel secure because we are eating well and getting exercise. But whether we live another ten, twenty, or thirty years is not in our control. We are totally dependent on God’s will. Our future is in God’s hands.
Despite all of our efforts and achievements, we as believers must always live with gratitude. We must always claim our radical dependence on God’s goodness to us. To think that we are making it on our own is foolishness. It is like imagining we can make our own dirt.