In this age of instant communication, people favor short, catchy expressions, something they can easily share on their social networks. Today’s Psalm was written long before such networks were even dreamed of, but it is the exact length of a text message or a tweet – the perfect sound-bite Psalm! Although Psalm 117 is the shortest Psalm in the Bible, its message is vast: a call to all nations to glorify God. “Praise the LORD, all you nations; glorify him, all you peoples!” This universal call is one of the main themes of today’s readings.
The universality of God’s love and his call are amazing, but also somehow familiar to us. Most people simply assume that God would not exclude anyone. We also know that Jesus commanded us to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News” (Mk 16:15). But for the Jews of the Old Testament, the idea that God wanted to save all people was revolutionary. They knew that they were God’s Chosen People, which seemed to imply that the other nations, the Gentiles, were not chosen. The people who belong to the one true God will be saved, and those who belong to other gods will be destroyed.
The prophets, however, sometimes spoke of salvation being available even to outsiders. Isaiah, for example, foretold that a day would come when “the mountain of the Lord’s house,” Jerusalem, would be established as the highest authority in the world, and “all nations shall stream toward it” (Is 2:2). Today’s first reading, from the end of the Book of Isaiah, is another hopeful prophecy about the Lord’s plan to “gather nations of every language.” People from every nation will give glory to the Lord – just as Psalm 117 so joyfully proclaims. One of the moments in which we can see this prophecy being fulfilled is on the day of Pentecost, when people from so many nations and languages were united by the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a fuller understanding of what “all nations” means. He explains that the universal call to enter the Kingdom of God does not necessarily mean that everyone will actually do so. Yes, “people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.” And yet, there will be some who “will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Jesus says this in answer to the question put to him: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He does not actually say whether the saved will be few or many, but instead directs our attention to our personal responsibility to “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” We are not to waste time wondering about the statistics of the next life, but rather focus on entering that life ourselves.
But how can we enter? We find it encouraging to know that the door is open to all, but discouraging to know that it is narrow. If some who try to enter are unable to do so, what guarantee do we have that we will not find ourselves locked out? Jesus’ words to the condemned are frightening. They have spent time in his presence, as we have, yet he says to them, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” The sober truth is, we too are evildoers. We have no hope of earning our way into Heaven. The key to passing through the narrow gate is not in achieving salvation for ourselves but in being humble enough to accept the Lord’s gift. It is his mercy, not our righteousness, that enables us to enter. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (cf. Mt. 9:13).
Today’s selection from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of another important aspect of our preparation to enter the Kingdom of God. We tend to think only of what we must do, putting too much emphasis on ourselves and on our claim to be worthy. However, the Lord is actually doing much more than we are. He is training us, disciplining us, just as a loving father disciplines his sons. Our nature dislikes the process, but in our better judgment we know how important it is. Children cannot raise themselves. They have little sense of boundaries and right conduct. To leave a child without guidance and discipline is very harmful to him. Parents who love their children know the value of discipline; they teach their children to do what is right, and correct them when they are wrong. This is what God, who truly loves us, is always doing for us.
We must not “disdain the discipline of the Lord nor lose heart when reproved by him.” If we are wise, we will strive to accept his guidance, knowing that he is continually preparing us for entry through the narrow gate into the joy of salvation. We have a taste of this joy even now when we accept the love and mercy of the Lord. This is the joy that moves us to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”
How do I feel, knowing that the Kingdom of God is open to all but the gate is narrow? In what ways am I striving to enter the Kingdom of God? Do I believe that trials and sufferings are God’s way of disciplining and training me so I can pass through the narrow gate to heaven?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.