Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
21st Sunday: Entitlement, Presumption and the Cost of Discipleship
A good place to begin today is a little discussion of the concept of entitlement. There are certain things that we are entitled to have. The Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Certainly all children are entitled to the basic care they need to grow from infants to young adults. In our work many of us earn benefits such as vacation time, social security and a pension. We are entitled to these.
Sadly, many people act entitled even though they have done nothing to earn special privileges. Some people are just plain rude as they make excessive demands on others. Some very well off people treat all others as their servants. At the other end of the spectrum, some people feel that the world owes them a living even though they refuse to work. They think they are entitled. Many a parent has had to have a serious discussion with his or her Teen as to whether or not the Teen is entitled to have a car just because he or she has turned 16 or 17. I have met priests who feel that they can make unlimited demands on others just because they are priests. They feel entitled. Many marriages have never become permanent unions of life and love because one or both of the people felt entitled to take and not responsible to give. I am sure you all have had to deal with people who carry on the air that the world owes them a living, owes them respect, and so forth.
When a person whose life revolves around his or her own sense of entitlement considers his or her relationship with God, or lack thereof, entitlement becomes the sin of presumption. This is quite common. There are many people who refuse to serve God, refuse to live Godly lives, refuse to worship, and yet, at death, presume that they and those like them are entitled to full union with God. When one of them
dies, their relatives and friends say, “He or she is in heaven now.”
Jesus speaks about the sin of presumption in today’s Gospel. Some people are not willing to make any sacrifices for the Kingdom of God. They have plenty of opportunity throughout their lives, but they ignore the call to follow Christ, the narrow way, and instead choose the wide path, the pagan way, the way of the “everybody is doing it” crowd. When they knock on the Master of the House’s door, it is too late. The door has been shut. Their lives on earth are over. They demand entrance into heaven claiming that the Lord lived among them and taught in their community. They feel entitled to enter into His Eternal Presence. But they have presumed His Mercy would be there for them without their ever lifting a finger to serve Him. Instead they hear the Master saying, “Depart from me you evildoers.”
When we act entitled, when we make presumptions on the mercy of God, it is because we have not fulling recognized what it means to be a Christian. We have not embraced the cost of discipleship. To be a Christian means that we are willing to take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow the Lord. To be a Christian means that we are willing to endure whatever the pagan world throws at us rather than walk away from the Lord. “You’re the only one at work, in the neighborhood, at school, who isn’t doing this,” they claim, lying by the way. “Perhaps, it would be better if you don’t go to our party. We really don’t want someone who isn’t going to be part of the fun,” they claim, deciding that sin is fun. Standing for the truth, standing for the Lord’s way, is difficult. It is the narrow gate. This is the way to the Lord.
Sacrificing ourselves for others is also difficult. Making time for someone who is hurting, someone who is infirm, someone who is lonely, means denying ourselves the small breaks we have in our busy lives. But these acts of charity are life giving if our lives are centered on the Lord. I have never met anyone who has regretted sacrificing himself or herself for others. Instead, those who choose the narrow gate, the way of giving instead of taking, will always respond, “I got so much more out of that then I gave.”
There are tremendous gifts showered upon us every time we embrace discipleship, no matter what its cost. “So,” the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Lift up your drooping hands and shore up your weak knees.” We need to stop complaining about what it costs to be a Christian and instead realize that our Christianity brings healing to a sick world. “Make straight paths for your feet that the lame might be healed.” And then we can be a part of the joy that Isaiah prophesied in the first reading. Then we can be part of the glory of the people who are honored in the heavenly Jerusalem.
No one can make a claim on God. No one is entitled to union with God. People who presume God will extend mercy to them while they refuse to extend His Love to others are committing a sin that is devastating to their spiritual lives. But people who embrace discipleship, people who accept the cost of following Christ, receive the all consuming joy of union with Him.
The three verses just before today’s second reading proclaim to the Christians of the first century as well as to the Christians of today:
“With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection. For the sake of the joy which was still in the future, He endured the cross, disregarded the shamefulness of it, and then took His place at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The entitled see themselves as the center of the world. The presume that God agrees, or at least will close an eye to their selfish existence. The Christian realizes that Jesus Christ is the Center of the Universe.
We don’t presume we will have a heavenly reward. We don’t claim that we are entitled to eternal glory. We just fix our eyes on Jesus, live His Life, and follow Him wherever He leads us.