The Gospel of Luke (13:22-30) reveals the fact that Jesus teaches with authority and force. One of those appreciating his teachings asks Jesus: Lord, will only a few people be saved? From Jesus’ reply to that person, it is evident that it would not be so easy. Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.
According to the scholar, Dr. John J. Pilch, it was commonly held among the Jews of Jesus’ time that if one did not belong to a prestigious family by birth, he/she had several options from which to choose. They could have shared the same wet nurse, married into the family, eaten and drunk together, been taught by the same teacher, etc. However, when it comes to being members of the Father’s family (salvation), Jesus dashes all pipe dreams: And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘ I tell you, I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
Being members of God’s family through Baptism, sharing the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, having heard his words from Holy Scripture, is not enough. Actually it would give us a false sense of security and keep us away from doing all the good expected of us. It would keep us, also, from any serious effort to enter through the narrow gate.
Perhaps the hardest part of the message is the aspect of universality of God’s offer of salvation. It is a question of effort not of lineage, or acquaintance, or connections. I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory… (Isaiah 66: 18)
As usual, Jesus is even more forceful and direct than that: There will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham. Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets safe in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast off. And people will come from the east and the west, from the north and south, and will take their place at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13: 28- 29)
There are no free passes, no recommendations, no privileges. It is not a question of knowing Jesus, of having shared a (Holy) Meal with him, of having knowledge of his teachings, not even of some water poured over our head, on the day of our Baptism. It is a question of “going to Jerusalem” with Jesus.
The answer is found right in that first line from the Gospel of Luke (13:22-30): Jesus went through cities and towns teaching – all the while making his way toward Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Jesus will find his narrow gate, his Calvary, his cross.
Clearly then, a radical change of life is necessary to establish a kinship bond with Jesus.
Nowadays Jesus’ words of warning would need to be even stronger. He can thank some of his ministers for the situation of lukewarmness and compromise we live in. For example, in order to rake in as much money as possible, most televangelists gut out the core of the Gospel message and preach pursuit of riches as the desirable goal to focus on. They twist Jesus’ teachings to fit their agendum of holy greed, thus eliminating several pages of the Gospel.
Jesus can thank also all those in the Church who prefer to water down God’s message to a palatable level instead of challenging their congregation to strive to enter through the narrow gate. In some churches, any controversial or difficult page of the Gospel has been neutered and eviscerated. Some Churches are de facto secularized. But, even with these “mild” churches around there is still an eruption of intolerance for anything that is about God’s laws.
Those who disregard God’s laws have forced us first to tolerate any type of behavior inconsistent with natural law and God’s commandments; then to accept it without any objection and, finally, to approve of it as if it were just a question of personal choice.
At the same time there is no tolerance at all for traditional stances and biblical values: if we do not acquiesce, we become the victims of vicious intolerance, of bullying and will be labeled bigots, racists and any other epithet ending in –phobic.
The preferred solutions are in opposition to the narrow gate: lowering the standard, paving the road, leveling the field, actually, making it downhill for all and… anything goes. Who is accountable, responsible, guilty, reprehensible, deserving of punishment anymore? We are told, time and time again, to tolerate, to understand, to overlook, to swallow, to keep quiet, to work towards compromises, to accept, actually to approve lest we are considered passé …
Nowadays all boundaries are considered restrictive. Kids should have free access to condoms but not to prayer. Still as young as five or six they should be taught about the details of sex and of alternative lifestyles, but not about abstinence and chastity. Multiplication of easy courses and proliferation of awards for any little insignificant, half-baked achievement are also telltales of a pervasive attitude. Striving for excellence is frowned upon because it is not egalitarian. Those who study hard are considered nerds and arrogant; those who are industrious risk to be penalized.
Now, how could Jesus count on us to transform this world…or at least, to redress some of its ailments if we lean towards subscribing to this new philosophy of softness and non-engagement?
In no uncertain terms Jesus tells us that he expects from anyone who desires to enter into his kingdom, to lead a life without fear of consequences, of condemnation, of rejection. He invites us to a life which must be inspiring, disciplined, opened to sacrifices and hardships.
Nowadays, our world is distracted, soft, spineless, disenchanted, indifferent, cynical, used to anything, and… impossible to shock. Well, it is also very deceptive while remaining quite alluring; if not careful it will swallow us alive. Soon, we will be another statistic, a number, a couple of lines in the obituary, unless we heed the invitation from the Letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13): My children, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord nor lose heart when he reproves you; For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son/daughter he receives.
It is time we stop camouflaging our faith. It is time we stand up and be counted. It is time we fight back and speak out. It is time we shout: “enough already!”
Could today be the day in which we do not expect our priests to preach what we want to hear but the genuine message of Christ? Could this be the day we become convinced that we are called to be salt of the earth and not honey …and, my friends, salt burns, salt stings.…That we are light and not skin lotion, and that a bright light will keep people from dozing off?
Let us try to enter through the narrow gate…the wide door is the wrong one!