The Narrow Gate
Since last Wednesday, the gospel reading for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time has been drawing me deeper and deeper into reflection. Finally, this morning, it’s time to sort through all of these thoughts.
In setting the scene, the gospel writer, Luke, tells us that Jesus was teaching his way to Jerusalem as he passed through the towns and villages along the way. Along with his teaching, I can only imagine that he was thinking about what was coming. And then he encounters “someone” – Luke doesn’t tell us anything about the questioner, only that it was “someone” – who tries to frame a profound question that really is centered on the self. “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Can you hear the underlying plea? “Lord, will I be saved?”
And Jesus, in his infinitely wise and wonderful way, as he often does, answers not the question asked, but the real question: How can we be saved?
His answer – that we must enter through “the narrow gate” – at first seems burdensome and harsh. However, I feel like that first impression reflects our view through the darkened lens of sin. Just as Jesus cut through to the real question, so must we sort through our own self-centeredness to understand the real answer.
I think we tend to read this gospel as confirming that indeed, few will be saved and that salvation is a most difficult task. And when we read it that way, we miss the point entirely.
We read these words about “the narrow gate” as a cautionary tale, warning us that we have little chance of salvation. But when Jesus directs us to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” he is giving us a message for which we should be most grateful. When he tells us that “many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” he is offering us a lesson that should make our hearts sing.
The narrow gate is not so much a warning about the difficulty of salvation as it is a welcome reminder that we need Jesus to lead us through it, that we need him to shape us, by grace, so that we fit just right and pass right through that narrow gate.
Thank you, Jesus, for everything in life that reminds me that I need you! Every such reminder leads me closer to you. My own pride makes me constantly test myself against the barriers to salvation – indeed, against the confines of this narrow gate. When I strive on my own against those confines, I’ll surely fail. My own strength is too little and too frail to have a chance. Reminded of my need for Jesus, I beg out of my own littleness to be shaped by him, and the confines of the narrow gate become instead a warm embrace by arms that fit just right.
In a life centered on our need for Jesus, we welcome the narrow gate.
Jesus, in the gospel reading, goes on to tell his followers that when they knock at the door, attempting to enter based on their casual association with him, the master of the house will reject them, saying, “I do not know where you are from.” Here again, it occurs to me that we often read this as a cautionary statement that we should remember where we are from. However, I learned a deeper lesson when I read it as highlighting, once more, my need for Jesus. If I am the one knocking at the door, I desperately want him to know where I am from – that I am from him, that I belong to him. I think that my own understanding of where I am from arises from what he knows about me. And what he knows about me is that he made me, loves me, redeemed me, sanctifies me, and wants me to know how to get through that narrow gate. All that’s left for me is to remind him of where I am from by the way I respond to his grace.
It’s that simple, really. I started to write that I need to remind Jesus of where I am from by the way I live, but that makes it once more about me. It’s his grace that enables me to live in a way that allows him to recognize me.
What will my response today tell Jesus about where I am from? It is not quite as easy as it might seem, because just wanting to live this life of response is not enough. Our response, as Fr. Jean-Nicolas Grou, S.J., points out, must go beyond “desires, longings, purposes, wishes” all the way to “having a strong and determined will.” Rather that basking in the contentment of wishing to live as Jesus calls us to live, we need, says Fr. Grou, to ask God for the will to live by and respond to the grace he so generously offers.
So our question, instead of “How do I get through that gate?” is this: “How will I respond to the grace God pours into my life? How will I be shaped by Jesus so that he can recognize where I am from?”