Salvation – Few or Many? 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)


Salvation – Few or Many? 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

Isaiah 66:18-21 Psalm 117:1-2 Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 Luke 13:22-30

            Today’s gospel passage revolves around the question, observes Brant Pitre, will many enter heaven or only a few?[1]Early Christian theologians’ response to this basic question on salvation, explains Pitre, can be categorized into a small minority view, principally represented by the early Christian writer Origen, and the majority view of Church Fathers.

         According to the minority view many are saved, or, in the case of Origin, all are saved. In contrast to this opinion, the majority view of early Church Fathers is that few are saved. In an attempt to bridge the difference between the minority and majority view on salvation, the modern theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar encouraged Catholics to hope all are saved without claiming that we know with certainty that all are saved.

         The question of who is saved and how many was also debated among the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and this question is partly answered in the Old Testament. Some Jewish people argued, describes Pitre, that all and only Jewish people are saved and no-one else. Other Jewish people contended that only a “remnant (Micah 2:12; Jeremiah 23:3)”, only a small group of Jewish people will be saved while the rest of the Jewish and all non-Jews will be condemned. Still others, held that some Jewish people and some people from non-Jewish nations will be saved, as seems to be indicated by Isaiah when God in a prophecy says “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory (Isaiah 66:18 RSVCE)”.[2]

         In today’s gospel passage Jesus also takes a position on this debate. According to Jesus, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many… will seek to enter and will not be able.” For some Scripture scholars and theologians, if many who seek to enter the door of salvation will not be able to this seems to indicate that Jesus holds few will be saved, however this few will, as prophesied by Isaiah include people from all nations since the standard that determines who enters heaven and who does not is whether a person is judged by God as a doer of evil or doer of good. Those who are judged evil doers, says Jesus, will “weep and gnash” their teeth outside of the Kingdom of God.

         Ultimately, the question whether few, or many are saved is not a question we can answer in a satisfactory manner. With that said, the Catholic Church’s mission is to strive to save all while not knowing if many, or only a few are saved. Since the Church’s mission is salvation the Church only has a list of those we believe infallibly by the Magisterium as saved and in heaven. We call these people beatified or canonized saints. In addition, since the Church’s mission is salvation and not condemnation, the Church does not know by name any human person who is in Hell. In other words, the Church does not have a list of the damned since her business is salvation, not damnation.

         In contemplating the mystery of salvation may we look to Jesus crucified on the cross who arms are open to embrace, to save all. This is the desire of Jesus, this is the desire of God. May we respond to Jesus’ invitation to eternal happiness by embracing him, embracing his cross, by uniting our cross to his and in so doing being swept into his mystery of salvation that ends with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

God Bless,

Fr Peter

Titian [Public domain], “Christ the Redeemer by Titian (c. 1534), Palazzo PittiFlorence,” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Titian_-_Christ_the_Redeemer_-_WGA22796.jpg

See individual images [Public domain], “The ethnicity of Jesus in art has been influenced by cultural settings,” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CompositeJesus.JPG

Brant Pitre, “The Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C), catholicproductions.com.


[1]Brant Pitre, “The Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C), catholicproductions.com.

[2]Brant Pitre, “The Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C), catholicproductions.com.

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