Those who travel by commercial airlines these days are aware that, in order to be admitted, one must have photo identification, pass through a body scanner and not be named on a terrorist watch list. But what are the requirements for admission to the Kingdom of God? Today’s readings address this important question. In the Gospel Jesus is asked, “Will only a few people be saved?” He replies, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Those refused entrance will appeal, saying, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” It is as if they are claiming that their familiarity with Jesus is enough to get them into the Kingdom. But he responds, “I do not know where you are from.” Which is to say, “Perhaps you knew all about me, but you never came to know me and give your life to me. For you, I was a holy man, a prophet, but you never surrendered your will to me as your Lord, your Savior, the only Messiah sent by the Father.”
This kind of talk can cause discomfort even for some of us who call ourselves Christians and practicing Catholics. We follow all the rules, try to be kind to others, say our prayers and go to Mass on Sunday. Surely, we expect to be admitted to the Kingdom of God when we die. And yet, Jesus says that many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. “Strong enough” refers not to our power but to our yielding to God’s power: strong in love, strong in faith, strong in hope.
Jesus’ narrow way is the way of the Cross. He has invited us to follow him in his way of obedient, self-sacrificing love. It is a way which we cannot walk by ourselves but only in communion with him and his Body, the Church. It is the way of relationship with him, not mere rules, personal knowledge of him, not merely knowing about him. According to the old story, we are confronted with two alternative directional signs: one points to one side and reads “A Lecture on Heaven.” The other points to the other side and reads “This Way to Heaven.” It is certainly less demanding – and less rewarding – to know about Jesus than to know him. Which do we prefer, head knowledge or an intimate relationship?
To know Jesus as Savior and Redeemer brings gratitude and a desire to remain or abide with him. As we respond to the Lord’s invitation to follow him, he forms us in his image – which means he changes, with our willing cooperation, all our thoughts, attitudes and behavior. Disciples must be disciplined, “for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.” The Letter to the Hebrews points out: “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” The way of the Cross is the purifying fire of God’s love, transforming us into his image so that we can be one with him. Only those who are one will with him may pass through the narrow gate.
Our self-centered attitudes, which throttle the power of Jesus’ love in us, must be crucified. The childhood wounds and disappointments that make it difficult for us to trust others must be abandoned. We want to be healed and set free, yet we fear letting go of our control. The Lord counsels and encourages us today, as a Father speaking to his children: “Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.” He is offering us the grace we need right now and the grace to persevere, but the decision to trust in him is a choice we ourselves must make.
As we see revealed in the marvelous prophecy of Isaiah today, the Father is drawing us all to his purifying, sanctifying, healing love. He is sending us who already know his love out to all the world, to every distant corner of the earth, to bring all our brothers and sisters as an offering of praise and worship to the Lord. Eventually, all who accept salvation, who enter through the narrow gate, will come to Jerusalem, representing Mother Church. The way, which looks so narrow in the eyes of the world, is vast and beautiful, for through the wounded Heart of Jesus we enter into the infinite love of the Father.
How can I be “strong enough” to enter through the “narrow gate”? Am I willing to accept the guidance of the Lord as he forms me in discipleship? What wounds and disappointments do I need to be healed from?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.