Will only a few be saved?

This coming weekend celebrates the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time during Lectionary Cycle C. Our reading begins:

22 He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” 

One should also note that the stability of teaching in the synagogues has given way and returned to the travel motif that began in 9:51 when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.  Again he is passing through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. (12:22)

The idea of salvation carries lots of different understandings for the modern, western mind. Some traditions would answer, “yes, only 144,000” – given the population of the world since the beginning, “few” is an understatement if taken literally.  Most every other tradition do not understand that only so few will be saved. Still it is a good question: who will be seated at the messianic banquet?

The idea and understanding of the end-times banquet is always contextualized to a time and place. The background in 1st century Jewish understanding of the eschatological (end times) banquet is described in Isa 25:6–9, whose images and vocabulary are mirrored in the Lukan scenes. “Isaiah had described the end as a lavish banquet, a feast fit for royalty, yet prepared for all peoples; on that day it will be said by all the nations, including Gentiles, “Let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation” (v 9, LXX). Although Israel did not lose sight of Isaiah’s vision of the eschatological banquet, the question of its participants did evolve in Second Temple Judaism, narrowing considerably in some instances. The Targum [Aramic translation of the OT], for example, maintains the notion of a meal for all peoples, but transforms it into an image of judgment against them—a conclusion echoed in 1 Enoch 62. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls (wherein testimony for the tradition of the messianic banquet is strong) one finds evidence of the boundaries having been drawn even more tightly so as to exclude not only Gentiles but also blemished Jews. Taking into account this trajectory of interpretation, the query, ‘Are only a few people being saved’ may well be understood with reference to who among the Jews are to be regarded as the saved remnant.”  (Green, 528)

Might the parable for this Sunday seem a contradiction of the one Jesus told only two chapters ago in Luke’s Gospel (17th Sunday of the year). The question there was: if we ask, will we receive? Is there a difference between the asking (11:1-13) and the asking for admittance to the banquet in our text (13:25 ff.)?

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