Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 117:1-2
Second Reading: The Letter to the Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Gospel: According to St. Luke 13:22-30
"The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place."
This is the actual quote from Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher that has transformed over the years into “Nice guys finish last.” Durocher was speaking during the 1946 season about his bitter rivals the New York Giants who, ironically, were not in last place when the original statement was made – but the Dodgers were in first.
Anticipating the words of the fiery manager and part-time actor (for those like me in the fifty-and-above category Durocher can be remembered as a guest star on one episode each of The Munsters and Mr. Ed) by a little over nineteen hundred years, Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel:
“For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Theologically, we usually interpret this statement along the lines of the Beatitudes – something like, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Those who were the “nice guys” in this life will be rewarded in the next by moving from the end of the line to the front. Jesus even tells a story where a guest sits at a humble place at a banquet and later the master of the house calls him to sit at the head of the table in a place of honor.
In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is not speaking of place in line but of time of arrival. He is telling his Jewish audience that many of them will be locked out of the heavenly banquet while some latecomers, the Gentiles, who come from all over the world will take their place. Luke, himself a Gentile, would have caught the meaning of this story and its inclusion here would have bolstered the sense of belonging for those Gentiles who were often made to feel like second class citizens in the early Church.
It was also a warning to the Jews that dropping the name of Abraham or Isaac or Jacob at the door will not get them in – if you live as if you don’t know Jesus then you will not be admitted to the banquet, no matter how important your ancestors are. Entrance through the narrow gate was reserved for those who because of the goodness of their lives were known to Jesus by name: those who may have come late to the party, but who came bearing the gifts of good deeds and merciful actions.
As in life, so in sports it is difficult to enter through the narrow gate. By the end of the 1946 season the New York Giants were indeed dwelling in last place, yet “Leo the Lip” and his Brooklyn Dodgers stumbled across the finish line tied for first with the St. Louis Cardinals. They lost a three game playoff to the eventual World Series champion Cardinals, who were led – fittingly for our purposes – by National League MVP and universally revered nice guy Stan “The Man” Musial.