Why the Gate is Narrow by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" He answered them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open the door for us.' He will say to you in reply, 'I do not know where you are from.' And you will say, 'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.' Then he will say to you, 'I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!' And 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. And people will come from the east and west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
As He makes His way to Jerusalem, Jesus is asked, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" Jesus' reply is startling. He says that although many will attempt to enter (heaven) through the narrow gate, they will not be strong enough. He goes on to explain that many people will claim to be friends of God and will want to enter heavenly glory when they die but will be denied. This exclusion will cause much anguish in those who claim to have been close to God but will be found unworthy to enter heaven.
Why does Jesus give the impression that the attainment of heavenly glory is difficult? After all, doesn't God desire all men to be saved? While we believe that God desires all men to be saved, we often forget that salvation is realized according to God's terms and not merely what we interpret God's terms to be on our own. In other words, just because you may claim to love God, doesn't necessarily mean that you love Him as He desires or expects. This Gospel passage reminds us not to presume that all who claim friendship with God are in fact His friends. Jesus tells us that some will say, "We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets," as if to assert that the mere claim of friendship with Jesus should be enough for one to be saved. Later, Jesus will remind us, "If you love me, keep my commandments." This means that part of being found worthy of heavenly glory, involves the actualization of our potential, given to us at baptism, to believe, trust and love God as He desires.
At times, individuals will confidently assert that they believe that they will go to heaven because they are nice people, even if they may be living in mortal sin. In their own estimation, they are worthy of heaven, even if by God's standards they are far from the kingdom. Jesus reminds us that such people will be quite surprised when they are left out of heavenly glory. To the surprise of these same people, there may be some who may enter into heavenly glory - the unassuming person, the unworldly individual, or those who are considered outcasts and unimportant in this life. Such people may have a better chance of realizing salvation than those who presume upon a favorable judgment from God at death.
This, at last, is why the gate is narrow. Believing in God, trusting Him and loving Him as He deserves and expects is the project of a lifetime. Stripping away our preconceived notions about what it means to love God and submitting our intellect and will to the mind of the Church, the bride of Christ, requires humility. It is the humble soul that never presumes that one can claim heaven on one's own terms. Rather, it is the humble spirit who is totally dependent on the gatekeeper and the gate, who is Christ Himself, who will enter the kingdom of heaven. The humble spirit is disposed to obeying God in all things, loving Him on His terms.
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