August 21, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause.
August 21, 2016
Fr. George Smiga
Today’s gospel seems negative and discouraging. When someone in the crowd asks Jesus about salvation, he seems to say that entering the Kingdom of God will be difficult. He uses the image of a “narrow gate” through which a person must push him or herself in order to pass. The Greek word that the text uses only intensifies this difficulty. It implies an athletic contest of strength by which people might squeeze themselves through by brute force. It is no wonder that Jesus concludes by saying that many will not have the strength to enter.
So how are we to understand these words of Jesus that seem to indicate that only a few people will be saved and only those who are strong enough to push themselves through a narrow gate? How do we square these words with so many places in the New Testament where Jesus seems to indicate that salvation is open to all who can freely enter into the Kingdom of God?
I would suggest to you that we must pose two questions to this text. The first is, “With whom is the questioner in the story concerned?” and the second is, “Who is making the gate narrow?” The question that is posed to Jesus is very important because it sets the context for everything that follows. The questioner asks, “Will only a few people be saved?” Notice that the questioner is not asking about himself but about others. His question seems to be an attempt to vindicate what he thinks about others. What he thinks is already included in the question “Only a few.” This questioner has already concluded that only a few people will be worthy to enter God’s Kingdom. So notice, it is the questioner, not Jesus who first introduces the idea of “the few”, “the narrow”, the limited way to salvation. It is in response to this narrow question that Jesus brings up the “narrow gate.”
So who is making the gate narrow? Not Jesus, but the person who is questioning him. Jesus is only responding to the man’s narrow question, saying if you will, “Well, if access to salvation is as narrow as you think it is, it will indeed be difficult to enter into God’s Kingdom”. It is the man who questions Jesus who narrows the gate, because of his judgment towards others. He thinks only a few are worthy to enter. It is his choice to envision the way to the Kingdom as one that is negative and limited.
Now when we look at the gospel from this perspective, it is not really a discussion about how many people will actually be saved. It is rather a warning to us about our own judgments and prejudices. Each time we judge another person as unworthy of salvation, we narrow in our own minds the gate through which salvation comes. Each time we reject another person because of their mistakes, their lifestyle, or their disagreements with us, we limit our ability to see the immensity of God’s love. Now God of course will continue to be God. God will continue to be merciful and gracious. God will continue to save the sinners and the lost, but our prejudice can blind us to the power of God’s grace.
So it is with a sense of irony that this gospel warns us that the gate we envision is the gate we will use. Each time we reject another person as unworthy of God’s love, the gate before us tightens. Each time we refuse to forgive someone who has offended us, the way before us lessens. We must therefore be careful to enlarge our mercy and our compassion. If we are unwilling to do so, then one day we might discover that our way of salvation is through a very narrow gate, a gate that is so narrow that we do not have the strength to enter.