“Someone asked him (Jesus), “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’”
The gospel today offers us an interesting and challenging question to consider: will I be saved (or in other words, gain entrance into heaven, the everlasting kingdom of God, the eternal banquet, eternal life)? This question tests a lot of our assumptions about the life of faith or our relationship with Jesus as Lord or our image of God. Very rarely does Jesus ever give a direct answer to a question that he is asked and he doesn’t change his process here. Often he answers a question with another question or he answers a question with a parable, story or teaching. Jesus does not respond to this question by detailing the number of people that are going to be saved (sorry for those who are holding out for the 144,000), whether it will be a great number or a relatively small number. Rather he counsels us to strive to enter through the narrow gate for many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.
I think our world today, the media and many human rights groups would be very dissatisfied with Jesus’ answer. The world is expecting that all people will somehow be saved and pass into eternal life for one major reason – God must be a nice God. It is not nice to judge people and to refuse them admittance based on some personal criteria. God must be tolerant with all people, especially since he created them that way. People’s feelings would be hurt if he did not accept them as they are and welcome them into his eternal home. More and more we believe in and worship this “nice” God who is able to see the good and “giftedness” of every person. Of course, this nice God would need a great big, wide-open door for all people to crowd through and enter into his house. Jesus today cautions us to not be presuming that the door to God’s house and eternal life is going to be a great big door, or that it will be wide open, rather, he advises us to strive to enter through the narrow gate. He is preparing us for the possibility that the door to the Father’s house, the gate into heaven, is going to be a narrow gate and that we might one day find that it is closed.
Now one thing that Jesus may have failed to understand is people’s rights. Many people come knocking on the closed door to the Father’s house claiming their right to enter. In our world today of course we can claim a right to almost anything. If I want it, it is my right to have it. I know it is my right because I would be sad to not have it, especially if I know that someone else is enjoying it. If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets are seated at the table then I have a right to claim my seat also. People have a right to full and equal access to the Father’s house. The Father cannot discriminate against my rights based upon a little evildoing that was also my right to do in privacy for my own pleasure without hurting anyone.
In our world today we have largely substituted the niceness of God for the mercy of God and our human rights claims for the justice of God. We are not comfortable saying that God is merciful and just. We want to instead insist that my God is nice and respects everyone’s rights. What is missing in this scenario? What is missing is what Jesus is urging us to strive for – a personal relationship of love (old school would call it the fear of the Lord which is btw the beginning of wisdom). You don’t have to love someone to be nice to them and you don’t have to love someone to respect their claim to rights. However, God’s mercy and justice are founded in love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” (Jn 3,16-19) There is your narrow gate. ““Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.” (Jn 9,35-38) The entrance into the narrow gate is an invitation to come to a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ through a call to discipleship and a commitment to a new life lived in the light of love and truth that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit offers.
There are many who are assuming that they belong to that blessed group who will share eternal life in the Father’s house just because they have been baptized, registered in a community and even know the address of the local church. They are “associated” with Jesus but they have never made the commitment to become a true disciple of Jesus and to go through a process of life-long, ongoing conversion that will free them to be formed in the image of Jesus and allow the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – to dwell in their interior being such that their bodies become temples of continual worship. “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.” (Jn 10,14f) How sad it would be to hear the words of the master declaring, “I do not know where you are from.” If we do not know Jesus and acknowledge him as a personal friend in our lives then he will respect our decision and “not know” us.
“Come to me.” Jesus offers himself in personal relationship as a way and a narrow gate that will lead us into the house of the Father. To embrace a life of discipleship, to follow the way of Jesus Christ, to carry whatever crosses we must bear along the way, to humbly serve others in love and to “remain in” relationship with Jesus is our way into the kingdom of heaven. We are not strong enough to force our way into the house of the Father, so we must abandon our own selfish demands to have it our way and embrace the will of God with all our hearts, serving the Lord as little children and walking always in his way.
We can count on the mercy of God to forgive those who seek forgiveness but I would not bank on his “niceness” for it is still a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. God is not nice and tame but he is good. And those rights and demands that you are going to insist upon, humble yourself before the Lord and he will raise you up and justify you in his grace. It pleases God to give you the kingdom, just enter in before the door of your life closes, you don’t have forever.