21st Sunday Ordinary Time. Cycle C
22nd August 2010
Luke 13: 22-30.
Tony Van Vuuren
Jesus never beat around the bush when He described the judgment that all of us will face at the end of our lives. He used vivid parables to help us understand and prepare for it. When we hear about the closing of the “narrow door” on the day of judgment, it’s easy to imagine the horror we would feel on hearing Christ say, “away from me all you wicked people.”
While Jesus did not sugar-coat the Gospels, neither did His words foretell dire circumstances for all; only for those of us who ignore His instructions.
As we continue on our spiritual journey, we must inevitably ask the question posed in today’s gospel: “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” Or, more directly, “Lord, am I among those who will make this journey successfully?” And Jesus answers our question with words that dispel any comfortable Christian self-righteousness that we may have been entertaining:
“Try your best; strive to enter through the narrow door.”
What is the meaning of the narrow door and why would Jesus use it in His parable?
Without taking it for granted some explanation might be necessary.
Most cities of the ancient world were surrounded by walls that had large gates in them. Jerusalem had twelve gates that were large enough for two-way traffic. Camels and donkeys could pass through easily; and people moved through these gates to do their business, to shop, and to visit their friends. These gates were closed at night, in case the city came under attack by an invader. There were also smaller gates or doors with very narrow corridors, for use at night, through which only one person at a time could be allowed into the city by the guards standing at each gate, without exposing the city to danger. It was difficult to enter the city without the right credentials. It was these narrow gates that Jesus was talking about.
Jesus is using the narrow door as an image of Himself and His way of living and His gift of Himself to us; because He tells us often that it is only through Him that we will come to our Father in Heaven.
It is a special kind of suffering and self-sacrifice he invites us to enter and share with Him:
to forgive is a narrow door; to serve by giving time and money for those in need is a narrow door; to put aside my schedule and agenda to listen to another’s pain, is a narrow door; to live a careful and frugal life, to have less so someone can have some, is a narrow door; to speak out for those who have no power or authority, even if it makes us unpopular, is a narrow door; to work to right wrongs is a narrow door.
The people who arrive at the door and claim friendship and privilege just because they knew him and even call him “Lord” will not automatically enter. “I don’t know where you are from.”
“But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets!”
The question comes back to us, “Yes, but did you follow my teachings and change your life?”
Being born Christian; mere church community membership, even regular church attendance, is simply not enough. We are given the gift of forgiveness; but a subsequent change of life is expected as a response. Our lives must be marked by the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ.
He will recognize us at the door if he recognizes himself in us, if he sees in us: his eyes–that saw those often unseen; his mouth–that spoke the truth and was the voice for those who had no voice in society; his hands–that reached out in care and compassion; his ears–that listened to those often unheard. When Jesus opens the door to see who is knocking, he will want to see a family resemblance–his brothers and sisters. Through our baptism we become His brothers and sisters.
We have to approach and try to enter the narrow door everyday of our lives; not just when we are in religious mode. We must try and involve God in everything we do; Everything.
I know a mother who said to her son every morning when she dropped him off at school
(for 12 years) “Involve God today.” She still does!
We must realize that there is a danger of treating church as if it’s a building like an ancient castle with a moat built around it. Only at weekends do we hear Zach ringing the bell, and Fr Harrie letting the drawbridge down and we pass out of our daily world into the “other world” of church— prayers, hymns and rituals.
An hour later we leave this rarified atmosphere and return to our daily and weekly world. The drawbridge then goes up until we are ready to enter religious mode again next weekend. If that describes us in some way, if our lives “out there” are not marked by a deep transformation as a result of Jesus’ entrance into them, then he is saying to us, “I do not know where you come from.” We are not of his family, not members of the new community that He has come to invite all of us to join.
Jesus stresses the need for constant fidelity and vigilance throughout our lives. Entry into God’s kingdom is not automatically granted, based purely on religious faith or nationality; we cannot presume on God’s mercy and then do nothing by way of response to God’s invitation. Salvation is not guaranteed for anyone, but as we heard from the Gospel reading, it is an urgent matter — the “narrow door” is open now but will not remain so indefinitely. How many will be saved in the end is a decision that rests with God, and depends on whether His Justice or His Mercy finally prevails.
Jesus comes to bring God’s love and freedom to the whole world. The message of his Gospel is that there is not a single person, not a single people, nation, race, or class, which will be excluded from experiencing the love and liberation that God offers. Hence the role of the Christian community, from the beginning until now has been, first and foremost, to proclaim to the whole world the Good News of God’s love for the world, and then to show this Good New to be real, reflected in the sharing and serving lives of individual Christians.
Entering through the narrow door denotes a steady obedience to Christ. Mere faith in Jesus and membership in his church by baptism will not guarantee salvation.
Some of the early Fathers of the Church interpreted the narrow door as that small place in the heart where one says “yes” or “no” to what one knows to be true.
Saint Teresa of Avila called this place the “center of the soul” wherein God dwells. Confirmation for us that Jesus is the narrow door, the way by which any person must enter the heavenly city.
God has showered us with limitless gifts; but the outcome of our lives is not His responsibility, they are ours. Everyone is called to share life with God; but few make the choice. And we must remember that the choice is ours! God offers – we must respond; and nothing happens unless and until we respond. The responsibility is ours; not God’s.
Jesus’ teaching that many are called but few are chosen sounds harsh. After all, wasn’t Jesus always optimistic, kind and forgiving? Yes He is. But He is also a realist. And it’s reality we need to see, not just wishful thinking about all of the things we’re going to do but never seem to get around to doing.
We all have free will; we can choose to pass that final examination or to fail it. The whole of our eternity, the unending life after death, depends on our choice now.
While we are alive we can avail ourselves of God’s Mercy; but when we die we will receive God’s Justice.
Let’s not settle for a life that simply gets close to Jesus by being near Him, by just coming to church once a week; God allows us to decide every day what road we will walk down and what door we will choose. Rather, let’s live lives that radiate His love so that when we knock on the door at the end of our lives Jesus will say;
“I know where you are coming from.”
Bishop Sheen says that we will have three surprises in heaven:
1) There will be many there whom we never expected;
2) There will be many absent whom we expected to see;
3) We will be surprised to find that we ourselves have gotten in!