ENTERING THE NARROW GATE
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time ©
My dear encountered couples:
There are some very old houses with narrow doors. You have to position yourself sideways and sort of shuffle through in order to enter. It is similar to getting between two huge boulders or climbing through the slats of a wooden gate.
Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
Here, instead of a large, arched gate, we are given the picture of a narrow door as the entrance into heaven. What can Jesus possibly be talking about? It is symbolic, of course. Is he referring to all the baggage we carry through life - our possessions, our money, our family and friends? That may be part of it. For we do have to leave behind all our material goods. We can’t take them with us. Our family and friends we also have to leave for a while. And so, possessions and people we cannot take with us through that door into heaven. This thought alone can disturb us.
But there are other (probably much more serious things) that we must unload from our shoulders before entering. These we may be attached to much more than any material item and may make the passage impossible. One of these might be - our religion. Yes! A person’s religion might make it extremely difficult, even impossible to enter heaven. religion can be defined as a system of beliefs about God and a way of living in response to those beliefs. What you believe deep down directs your way of living in this world.
Therefore, it is essential that you discover the true religion, or rather the true understanding of the true religion, and live in accordance with it.
Most of you count yourselves among the members of the true religion, the one founded by Christ. I also! But what is even more important than membership is to understand the truths taught by Jesus Christ and make sincere effort to live in accordance with them. One can belong without participation. We all know that - like joining organizations but not really getting involved. We might not even know the purpose of the organization. We pay our dues but that’s it.
Today’s gospel reading is directed at those Jewish people who thought they had guaranteed access into the kingdom of God. But Jesus told them, “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.”
He told them that people from outside the Jewish religion would come and would take their places in heaven. Even though they were among the chosen people, others would now become first while some of them would be placed last.
What a fright he must have sent through those people! How angry he must have made them! Who is he to tell us off? We have God living in our temple. He is the center of our nation. God must let us in heaven. Jesus says what? “I tell you; I do not know where you are from.”
The people Jesus was speaking to had the true religion, counted themselves among the members of the true religion. They had been given the truths by Moses and their many prophets. But the question is: Did they understand the truths, and did they put forth sincere effort to live in accordance with them? Jesus seems to say, of at least some of them — NO! What would he say in regard to you? Or me?
Every Sunday we hear the Scriptures read. We might listen to the word of God spoken through the people and events of Old Testament times. We are spoken to by Paul, or one of the writers of the Epistles. Jesus teaches us in the Gospel passages. We might think we’ve heard it all so often we have it memorized. We might think we know it so well that it bores us and we get our minds on other things while the selections of Scripture are being read. And so, we don’t really listen anymore. We no longer hear God speaking to us.
Our understanding of God’s Word remains where it was when we turned him off, when we tuned him out.
This was precisely the problem Jesus faced in his times. Many of the Jewish leaders were no longer listening. They thought they knew it all. They thought they understood all that was necessary to live the religion given the chosen people. He was their God; he dwelt in their temple; they were his people. Therefore, they believed they had it made. Everyone else would be condemned, but they would be saved. For they were the only ones who kept God’s law.
How so very many people say that same thing today about themselves while condemning everyone else! Have you ever said it, or at least been tempted to think it? Search yourself. Examine your beliefs and look at your life.
Ask yourself these things: “Do I really know what God means by love, by love of God, of neighbor, of myself? Do I really put forth lots of effort to live it? Do I judge and condemn others for not living according to my ways? Do I have the slightest idea what mercy means? Do I deep down forgive anybody anything? Do I understand that salvation is a gift and I don’t earn it?”
These are only a few things among many. Do you understand them and live them - or do you just think you do? This is what I mean when I say it could be a person’s religion that prevents him from entering that narrow door. Incorrect understanding, or more importantly, incorrect living adds up to false religion. Is your religion really God’s religion — or is it your own version?
Jesus established the true faith and way of life. But how certain are you that what he founded is what you understand and live? The living is the more important of the two. We must unload false ideas, false ways, that is, false religion, before ever being able to pass through that narrow gate.