Have you ever noticed how Jesus hardly ever answers the question he is asked, but tells a story in response to a question or asks another question? It is as though he sees beyond the presenting problem to what is really going on in the questioner and addresses his response to the deeper, unspoken question.
The questioner in this case is an unidentified ‘someone’. The question, ‘Will only a few be saved?’ is echoed later in the gospel: ‘Who then can be saved?’ The actors in the drama do not know the answer to these questions, but the readers do.
At the beginning of Luke’s story of Jesus, we hear that God has raised up a saviour (1:69) …. ‘that we might be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us’ (1:71). The context makes it clear that ‘the salvation of our God’ is mediated through Jesus, the child brought to the temple by his parents, Mary and Joseph. The ‘saved’ (8:12) are those who ‘when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance’ (8:15).
Many ‘lack the strength’ to gain admittance through the door to God’s ‘empire’ or ‘kin-dom’ even though they have sat at table with Jesus and heard his preaching in their streets. In other words, membership in the circle of believers, even the inner circle, is not enough for ‘salvation’.
As the first reading from Isaiah 66 makes clear, God’s people were chosen not for themselves but for a specific task, namely to bring the nations to God. God is imaged as a ‘householder’ who refuses entry to the unrighteous or unjust, to those who are unfaithful to their mission. God the householder knows these people but does not know where they are ‘coming from’. The meaning here is very similar to our contemporary expression when we fail to understand the strange behaviour of someone who has been gifted with love and opportunity and seems to live only for self. We readily assert: ‘I don’t know where she/he is coming from!’
The Lukan Jesus also teaches in this passage that God’s favour and generous embrace is not restricted to Jews including Christian Jews who are just and faithful. It is open to the many who come from north or south or east or west. The implications of this are worth considering as we celebrate Migrant and Refugee Sunday in our parishes.