In today’s gospel (Lk. 13:22-30) Jesus is on journey toward Jerusalem, toward the cross and the resurrection, and he is passing through many towns and villages. At one point someone asks him; Lord, will only a few people be saved? The question witnesses to a common assumption of the time that salvation was dependent upon belonging to the “chosen people” or to the right group – be it social, religious or ethnic. (The question might actually have come from someone troubled by this understanding and so he or she asks our Lord for his opinion.) This raises a valid question for us; even if we might not say that salvation is dependent upon belonging to the right group, how often do we act and live our lives like this is so? How often might we distance others from our lives or isolate ourselves from others who are different, who have very apparent needs that might make burdensome demands on my life and time (i.e. the poor, the immigrant, the mentally-handicapped, the elderly)?
The Kingdom of God that Christ comes to inaugurate allows for no such separation nor limitations. The Kingdom of God is found and revealed in the moment of encounter with the other in his or her need and likewise when we, ourselves, stand in need.
Our Lord responds, Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. Jesus then goes on to give us the image of the master of the house who locked the door to his house thus leaving some people locked outside. Both “gate” and “door” are images of encounter – where walls and fences separate and divide, gates and doors allow for encounter and moving beyond supposedly set and rigid boundaries.
Our Lord describes this gate as “narrow” in contrast to the way of self-focus which is very broad and open in our world. It is easy to live life focused solely on self and on one’s own needs and in many ways we are encouraged to do this and even applauded for doing so. Yet the gate of the Kingdom is here described as anything but open and broad. It must be noted though that the narrowness of this gate is not due to a limited love on the part of God, nor a desire on God’s part that only a few be saved. The gate is “narrow” in the sense that it requires a deflation of our egos in order to fit through! Big egos, a life lived with a focus solely turned inward on self will not fit through this gate nor do such attributes even allow for honest encounter with God or even with another person in the first place.
“While on this earth … humility,” wisely advised St. Teresa of Avila. Cultivating humility in life allows for the letting go of self, of resentments, of pride, of indifference that is necessary in order to “fit through” and enter the narrow gate of encounter with another and the Kingdom of God.
The narrowness of the gate into the Kingdom of God does not reflect any limit on the part of God’s love rather it points out those limits within our very selves that block real encounter with God and with one another.
While on this earth … humility.
Strive to enter through the narrow gate…