16 September, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) - The narrow door

Isaiah 66:18-21
Luke 13:22-30
‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you,
many will try to enter and will not succeed’ (Luke 13:24)
Chancel Screen of St Mary Church, Tunstead, Norfolk
Well, there’s a cheery message for you to start your Sunday morning with. But in a sense this is the nature of the beast, as it were; as it is often the case with gospel readings, there is a bittersweet taste to this entire passage from Luke. The passage is bittersweet because although it takes up Isaiah’s earlier vision of God’s new gathered people celebrating joyfully in God’s kingdom, it also warns us that maybe not everyone will reach it – indeed, possibly only relatively few. A similar mention about a narrow entrance into God’s kingdom is present also in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus affirms ‘Enter through the narrow gate… small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it’ (Matthew 7:13-14). However, these sayings of Jesus are not meant to dishearten or scare us because Our Lord wants everyone to be saved; rather, they invite us to renew our efforts in pursuing the path of salvation with all our strength, under the direction of God’s grace.
The bitter-sweet character of this passage is highlighted quite dramatically in the parable that follows the narrow door saying as Jesus moves on to describe the reactions of those left outside contrasting them with the joys of those abiding in God’s presence. We read,
‘you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from.”’
In these words we find a clear invitation to examine the way in which we, as Christians, are journeying towards that eternal celebration. We are the ones who regularly eat and drink with Jesus here sharing the holy food of the altar, and we are the ones who hear his words speaking to us in the gospel, so although we could legitimately think that going to church and engaging with a few spiritual readings might do the trick, here we read that this is not good enough.

Entering through the narrow door requires more effort than leisurely coming to church when we feel like it, saying that we believe, taking Communion, and listening to Bible readings. Jesus asks us to “try our best” in life – the very best we can do with the persons that we are and the sometimes complicated realities in which we live. Jesus asks us to “try our best” to be Christians not just at church, but also in the world. But when we look at it this way, who indeed will be saved? Or in a better translation of our passage, who are those who are being saved? And what characteristics those being saved possess, so that we may know, and by imitating them, we may succeed in entering through that ‘narrow door’?

Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus criticises those who called him “Lord, Lord” but then did nothing to actually follow all his teachings (Cf. Luke 6:46). If we read the narrow door saying in this context, we see that coming to church, loving the Lord, taking Communion, and listening to the Bible, form just one side of the coin, just one aspect of treading the path of salvation. The other one is doing what Jesus does – trying our best for others, trying our best to grow in good, virtuous habits, trying our best to succeed in being Christ-like people in our society. Together, these two aspects show us what it means to be people who are being saved; people that already live in this present time the joys and the life of the world to come, people who endeavour to follow Jesus even when we fall short of his teachings, and above all, people that can soothe the bitterness that daily life sometime brings to those around us with the sweetness of the life of heaven.

Our Lord says, ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door.’ May he grant us the will, the courage, and the strength to do this every day. Amen.

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