By Brother Julian McDonald cfc
Someone said to Jesus: “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” He said to them: “Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because many will try to enter and will not succeed.” Luke 13, 22-30
“When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled the lame.” Luke 14, 13
I want to suggest that the metaphor of the narrow door used by Jesus in today’s gospel reading is not about the reduced dimensions of a door but about the clutter we can gather to ourselves, our unused gifts that we refuse to share with those around us, and our slowness to expand the love in our hearts to include those we don’t like and those who have offended us. It is these that are the obstacles that slow our progress on our life-long journey of growing into God. These are what will hamper our entrance into adult faith and true personal integrity. Such clutter will provide us with a comfortable place in the crowd of all those who subscribe to the belief that there is safety in numbers and who measure success by the size of their bank account and the things they acquire.
The narrow door and the narrow way are metaphors used by Jesus to describe the manner in which he himself lived. He chose the way of compassion, simplicity and unconditional love; a way that very few of us, who call ourselves his disciples, choose as our first preference. His way had nothing to do with narrow-mindedness, but much to do with true freedom, selflessness and inclusion of those pushed aside by those who found comfort in walking with the crowd.
Today’s gospel challenges me to ask myself what exactly is there in my attitudes or in the way I live my life that prevents me from opting for the narrow way of Jesus.
Today’s gospel opens with a question that someone in the crowd put to Jesus. If we’re honest, we will probably admit that we, too, have wrestled with similar questions about our final destiny. However, if we care to look at the various questions that people put to Jesus in the course of his ministry, we will notice that he rarely gave a clear, definitive, unambiguous response. The answer we hear today is no different, and pushes us to answer for ourselves what is involved in living like Jesus, in our contemporary world.
“Sir, will just a few people be saved?” is actually another way of asking whether there is safety in numbers. And Jesus seems to imply that sticking with the crowd really means a reluctance to dare to be different or being afraid to support those whom the crowd shuns and ignores. Look, for example, at how the majority of voters in the United Kingdom put self-interest first when they opted to leave the European Union. Similarly, voters in country after country are choosing leaders intent on locking out desperate refugees fleeing from the brutality of war, terrorist activity and economic exploitation. Would Jesus have opted for self-interest or chosen to exclude refugees?
From another perspective, we can acknowledge that certainty is sought by those of us who are unable to put our faith and trust in a God whose love is boundless and unconditional, and who persists in calling us to reflect some of that same love by reaching out to the needy, the destitute, the alienated and the desperate. Jesus was clearly less than impressed by those who viewed solidarity with him as taking time merely to be in his company, eating and drinking with him. Rather, his measure of true solidarity is to be seen in the genuine hospitality of inviting to our tables those whom the world, out of fear, is quick to exclude.
Dr Tom Long, the Lutheran preacher and professor of homiletics, tells of an incident that happened in the rural church in Georgia which he an his family attended when he was a child: “During worship one Sunday morning, a shabbily dressed stranger came through the side door of our church, made his way to the front and stared up at the pastor who had just started to preach. Nobody offered the visitor a seat and nobody said a word to him. The preacher stopped and nobody in the congregation moved. The visitor turned and stared at the congregation for about a minute, and then left by the opposite door. At the end of the service, most of the congregation gathered outside under one of the large oak trees in the church yard and discussed what had taken place. They continued their discussion for the next few Sundays. None of them knew the stranger who had come into their church, but they came to the conclusion that God had given them some kind of moral test and they had failed it. They admitted that God had repeatedly extended hospitality to them and that they had failed to extend hospitality to that lone stranger.”
Jesus eventually gave some kind of an answer to the question put to him at the start of today’s gospel when he referred to the expansiveness of God’s love: “And people will come from the east and the west and the north and the south, and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Instead of trying to list for our satisfaction the “who’s who” or the “who will be who” in the kingdom of God, we might do better by committing ourselves to following the narrow way to the narrow door modelled by Jesus. That, of course, means that entry to the kingdom of God is not something that is earned by strategy or effort. Like life itself, it is pure gift. So let’s give our attention to living with generosity and integrity, the way Jesus taught us to live. That might involve narrowing our focus and taking on the discipline of Gospel living.