The man who came to Jesus with the question ‘Sir will only a few be saved’, reminds me of the man who died and went to Heaven. St. Peter met him at the gate and brought him inside and proceeded to give him a conducted tour. They came to an enclosure surrounded by a high wall and as they passed Peter said, ‘Keep very quiet as you pass this place.’ ‘Why’? The man asked. ‘In case we might disturb those inside’ Peter answered. ‘Who’s inside’ he asked. ‘Catholics’ he whispered, ‘they think they are the only ones in here. If they knew there were others they would be very disappointed in fact some might ask for their money back.’
The man who asked the question ‘Will only a few be saved was obviously thinking of Heaven as some kind of exclusive club to which only members were invited. As a Jew he would have believed that it was only Jews were the Chosen ones who would have been admitted and the Gentiles and sinners which would include the rest of us had no hope and were lost.
The idea of one group being chosen over and above any other can be quite dangerous. If God does chose one group or person it is always for service and never for the exclusion of anyone else.
The word of God in Scripture is very clear, that all peoples of every nationality, background and religion will have a place in the heavenly banquet. God’s saving will is universal, it is that all people should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. How that happens is the question that Jesus addresses. He says, ‘try always to enter by the narrow gate’ and never rely on the fact that you happen to be a Jew or a Christian or a Catholic or belonging to any particular group. In many old castles and walled cities there is a narrow door or gate. This was designed for the weary traveler who returned home after dark and found the main gates closed. This was the eye of the needle Jesus spoke of when he said that ‘it will be harder for a rich men to get into the kingdom than for a camel to get through the eye of the needle.’
In order to get through this narrow gate you had to make yourself small, you had to humble yourself, and you had to leave outside all that you were carrying and all that was likely to en-cumber you.
This may make sense of why Jesus also said, ‘Unless you change and become like little children you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the little ones who have most ready access to the Kingdom because they don’t take themselves too seriously, they are not full of their own importance, they find it easy to make themselves small and they are adept at squeezing through narrow spaces. Neither are they stuck in a set mode of behaviour where they steadfastly resist change.
If we are to take the teaching of Jesus seriously then what are the challenges and implications for us in regard to the narrow gate.
First never to fall into the trap of thinking that the more we have is the more we are. Once we start measuring our worth, or that of anyone else in terms of material possessions we are certainly on the wrong road. Some wise person has said don’t get overly concerned with having money or power because some day you are going to meet someone who has none of these and then you will realize just how poor and weak you really are.
Next what a person does may give them a certain status but we are never what we do. A very dangerous myth to buy into is to start believing that we are only as good as we are useful. One day when all the doing has ceased we will be forced to ask, who am I now?
Family relationships have always been considered as utterly sacred in Christian teaching. Yet to have our sense of identity too closely bound to who we are in terms of family is not a good idea. If a wife has no identity apart from her husband or vise-versa that is very unhealthy because if one is taken where does that leave the other. If a mother becomes too identified with her role as mother then in order to preserve that she will continue to do for her children what they are big and ugly enough to do for themselves. The result is that they remain dependent and never separate while she never has to face the painful question who am I apart from being somebody’s mother?
A lot of the baggage that we tend to carry with us that also needs to discarded at the narrow gate is our addiction to other peoples approval. Living our life always with an eye over our shoulder as to what somebody else might be thinking is a dreadful burden that can certainly block us from leading a deeper life.
Finally while there are so many more burdens that need to be laid down some of the more common ones are guilt, where we don’t forgive ourselves and resentment where we don’t forgive others. Its all to easy for someone’s identity to become synonymous with a grievance or injustice and sad to say I have been at deathbeds where that has been the case. The gate was open wide but the unfortunate had great difficulty getting through because what had happened them, or what was done to them, had become their badge of identity. Their potential for love had become blocked at a particular point.
There is no denying that the gospel of today is utterly radical. It is not so difficult that we can’t understand it, rather it is so simple that we find it so difficult. It basically says that if you want to know who you really are as a child of God then you have to let go of trying to find your identity in all that you are not and only in so doing will you discover what it means to live a Kingdom life both here and in the hereafter. There are a lot of big wide gates that lead nowhere while only the narrow gate leads to life.