The word catechumen comes from a Greek word meaning ‘one being instructed’. A catechist is the teacher doing the instruction. Catechesis is the stuff which is being taught. The catechism is a book containing the teaching. Catechetics is the art or method or act of being instructed.
So in todays parlance in the catholic church all religious instruction is known as catechetics (this could include the Bible and the authors of the Bible could be called catechists.)
A good catechist (or teacher) does not just tell you a bald fact such as ‘do not kill’. The good catechist will embroider the fact with example and story and hyperbole and parable to help the student or catechumen to remember and understand better the bald fact.
The Bible was written by many different authors (that is catechists) each with different abilities and expertise as regards catechesis (ie. religious instruction).
So most of the Bible teaching (catechesis) is not a direct quote of the words of Jesus of Nazareth. It is teaching retold and digested over long periods of time and eventually written down by a catechist in a form and style and understanding uniquely his own.
Today’s gospel reading is a typical example of this.
One must avoid being distracted by the style, symbolism, examples and parable used by the catechist to get the message across. One must search out the message.
For example if the post man/woman brings you a letter you do not consider what he/she looks like or how they are dressed or what vehicle they arrived in. They are just the messenger. You concentrate on the letter they delivered and what it says.
The message today is, do not ask who or how many will be saved (As we say ‘go to heaven’). Do not even ask will I be saved or even worry about it.
From the point of view of Jesus of Nazareth life is not about going to heaven or not going to heaven. Life is about ‘entering through the narrow door.’
Entering through the narrow door is living like God our Creator eg. forgiving, giving generously, showing compassion and mercy, being tolerant, welcoming the stranger, sharing what we have etc.
This leads to happiness and peace of mind, heart and spirit and sharing in the Eternal life of our God, even in this life. That is how we are created to live, not by joining the rat race of fierce competition, rampart ambition, greed, self interest above all else, and the devil take the hindmost. The latter is the wide door, the broad road that leads to sleepless nights, constant worry, being perpetually on one’s guard against, and suspicious of, one’s colleges and so called friends, constantly and fearfully examining the stock market to see if your precious hoard has risen or fallen a point.
Today’s Gospel uses shocking examples in an effort to wake me up to what life is about. It is not ‘to put the fear of God in me’. The very last thing God, my loving Father, wants from me his child is fear just as the last thing any loving parent wants from children or grandchildren is fear.
“Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” In the estimation of Jesus of Nazareth the first are the humble, compassionate, merciful, accommodating and generous and not the ruthless, ambitious high – flyers who trample underfoot everyone who gets in their way on their road to glory.