Gospel – Luke 13:22-30
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“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!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked – “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus wisely gives no direct response to this question, but instead tells his interrogators to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. . .” But what does that mean for us today – and in the case of the complex serious immigration situation that has been created at the U.S. southern border? Notably, Jesus answer spurs the inquirer (and us) to action. He challenges his questioner and others (“Strive” is plural) to make sure that they are among those saved, however many it proves to be (v.24). The word “strive” is derived from a technical term for competing in the ancient Olympiad pointing to a full-hearted effort. This word is in the present tense and contrasts in comparison to those who “will attempt to enter” but when the door of opportunity is finally shut it will be too late (v.25). People must strive to enter now. There is inevitably a time limit on the offer of salvation.
And just what is this “narrow gate?” It is none other than Jesus himself. He is the narrow gate. He says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). He is the Way, the only Way that leads to the Father. In order to be saved, we have to enter salvation through Him. We need to come to know him through his life at the margins and with those bearing the burdens of poverty; through his death including those little daily deaths to self when he was generous, forbearing, and merciful toward those entrapped in the legalisms of his day; and his resurrection where he brought new hope and life. We have to enter into His Body, which is the Church that continues to make present the means of salvation with Him.
Jesus response addressed an attitude of complacency and entitlement that afflicted those who followed him as well as those who opposed him – and perhaps some of us? Many thought that their status as descendants of Abraham guaranteed them the salvation promised to the people of Israel when the Messiah came. They took comfort in the words of the scriptures that separated them from “the nations,” that is the gentile peoples around them.
But Jesus would have none of that attitude! There is no entitlement to salvation; it requires people to cooperate with God’s offer of grace and gifts. To fail to acknowledge the gift and to act on the promise of salvation is not enough. People must live it, that is, to think, speak and work as if they were already living in the Reign of God. In addition, they would also need to accept that the invitation to be part of God’s kingdom was not for them alone but was for the whole world.
This wasn’t a totally new teaching. The prophet Isaiah had proclaimed it centuries before as the Israelites return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. Isaiah announced a message of radical inclusion to a nation that had once prided itself on its exclusivity: “I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory” (Is. 66:18).
Echoing the proclamation of Isaiah, Jesus prophesied: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” So our status as US Citizens doesn’t matter toward salvation, but the discipline of truly following in the footprints of Jesus does! It is no coincidence that the word discipline has its origins in the word disciple. Action in response to the gospel is what counts. The fact that we are Christians, our membership in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,” and even our baptism won’t matter if we don’t live the faith we have professed and fulfill the promises made in our baptism. Tolerating cruelty at our nation’s borders is symptomatic of our personal and collective failure to “seek the narrow Gate.” We must return to the spiritual discipline of “strengthening drooping hands” by lifting them in prayer for conversion, compassion, wisdom, and political courage; exercising our “weak knees” by bending in humility, service, and hospitality to serve our sisters and brothers in dire need; and then “making a straight path” to greater justice and righteousness for our nation among the peoples of God’s world (Heb. 12: 12-13).
Dawn Nothwehr, OSF, PhD is the Erica & Harry John Family Professor of Catholic Theological Ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.