A wise person once told me, “If you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer.” Here’s an example. Suppose you walk down to the river one day, only to see a baby floating his way down the stream in a basket. You can just barely reach out to snag the basket and save the child, when you see another basket heading your way from upstream. You quickly find a place to set the first baby down safely and race back to save the next – and when you do, you see another. Followed by another. And another. You look around for help, but you find yourself all alone.
As you frantically work to save all the children in the river, you think to yourself, “Surely there’s got to be someone around to help me! There must be a better way to save all these babies!” These aren’t bad questions, after all. But the pressing nature of the situation prevents you from asking an even more important question: “How are all these babies ending up in the river in the first place?”
In today’s Gospel, someone asks another “wrong question” of Jesus:
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” With a mastery seen only among some of the “best” political candidates of our day, Jesus doesn’t really answer that question, but rather the one He really wants to talk about.
It’s not about how many will be saved, but the sorts of people, or rather the sorts of faithfulness amongst God’s people that are important when it comes to salvation. Salvation is a gift given to all; it’s nothing we can earn. We do, however, have to accept that gift, and beyond that, make sure that all people know the gift of salvation that is there to receive. “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News” the psalm instructs us. Our salvation as an individual is for nought if we don’t strive for the salvation of the whole community.
Jesus gives, through parables, some instructions on living a Christian life; the epistles remind us to allow ourselves to be formed and shaped by those around us, and in fact by God, into a Christian people. So too we are to help others live a Christian life — by evangelization, catechesis, discipline and, most of all, love.
It’s the wrong question, but in this case the right answer: Will only a few people be saved? Our scriptures this weekend seem to make it clear that in some measure, the answer to that question is up to each of us. Are you and I ready, right now, to answer that question, by our words and deeds?