Sunday 21C (LK 13:22-30)
One Sunday evening, two brothers – Joe and Jack – had a serious discussion on a religious topic. They rarely talked about something religious or spiritual because they were told in their school that faith was a private matter. But that Sunday morning there was something ‘special’. A priest visited their parish and the pastor invited him to preach so the congregation might ‘taste’ something different. The visiting priest agreed. After reading the Gospel, everyone sat down. All turned their eyes to him, listening attentively.
The priest began to read: “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?”
Then the priest asked the congregation: “How do you think?” He paused for some seconds, stepped down the pulpit, returned to his seat. And that was the end of his homily.
Everyone in the church was like…. “Is that all? Really?” People were…shocked. But that ‘different’ homily created a follow-up. His question was like a little homework in people’s mind. This was how Joe and Jack got into their discussion.
Joe asked: “Will only a few people be saved? How do you think?”
Jack replied: “Well, as you may have heard about the number 144,000 in chapters 7 and 14 of the Book of Revelation. Some people have said that only 144,000 people would be saved.”
“Well, that’s not a lot,” said Joe.
“Yeah,” replied Jack, “this is certainly NOT the official interpretation of the Catholic Church. This number has a symbolic meaning in the Bible. I was fortunate to have taken some courses in theology some years ago. The professor told us to always read a biblical text in its proper context to avoid possible distorted and wrong interpretation.”
“Well, what do you mean?”
“For example, in this context, Jesus does not say how many people will be saved. Instead, he gives another kind of answer, saying: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” You see, he lays out a principle for us.
“Oh, I got what you mean. But I don’t quite understand the meaning of the terms “the narrow gate”, and why people have to be strong enough to enter it. What does it mean by “strong” anyway?” Joe seemed to be confused.
Jack replied: “Some people may understand “the narrow gate” as suffering. However, this understanding can be dangerous for the faith when they equate suffering with bad things. Let’s take some examples. When the terrorist attack happened in New York on the eleventh of September 2001, I heard some people say: “This is a punishment from God on the Americans because of their sins.” When the terrible earthquake happened in Haiti in 2010, some said: “God wants to test the faith of the people.” One time, when I visited a person with cancer, she said to me: “God sent me this to make me suffer like Jesus.” Another time, as I met a poor family, the husband complained: “I feel that God does not care much about our poverty.” Still another time, I met one of my friends who had a car accident, he said: “Maybe God took revenge on me because I said something bad about him.” Etc … How do you think about these comments? I don’t think they fit our Christian faith.”
Joe listened carefully and then said: “Well, we may want to think about the narrow gate in a different sense. I begin to see the value of what you mentioned about putting things in their proper contexts. I think we need to continue to read the next part of the Gospel that day to see a more complete picture. Do you have a Bible?”
“Surely do.” Jack gave Joe his little Bible.
“Thanks. Look at the next paragraphs,” Joe began, “Jesus tells a parable about the master of the house who, after locking the door, denies those who come and knock at his door although they say they knew him. He then says to them: “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you EVILDOERS!” Here we can see that those who do evil things seem to be the people who cannot get through the narrow gate.”
“Yeah, I think you are reasonable. Although evildoers seem to be aggressively strong from the outside, but actually they are not strong. They may be seen as strong in the eye of the passing world, but not in the eye of the Creator of the world, because evil doings make people weak and lost.” Jack made a comment.
“Wow! I’m struck by what you just said. But eventually, what does it mean by “the narrow gate”?
Jack answered: “Well, Jesus is the one who teaches us to be strong to enter through the narrow gate. So I think we should look at him to find the right answer.”
“I suggest that we contemplate Jesus on the Cross. In an utterly painful and humiliating situation like this, people tend to choose the common and broad gate which is to react with anger, bitterness, violence, hatred, revenge, etc. But He does not step down from the Cross to kick their…. He does not take any revenge. On the contrary, He remains on the Cross because he still loves those who are hating and killing him. This is surely not easy at all. Staying gentle, tolerant, merciful, forgiving, peaceful and loving in such a situation is entering through the narrow gate. Only genuinely strong people can do that.”
Joe listened to Jack. He began to examine the way he acted. He thought he would need to be more loving so he could be stronger like the Master Jesus. Then he told his brother:
“Jack, do you think I am strong yet?”
“Well, we both need to grow more in this aspect. I believe with God’s help, we will be stronger to enter through the narrow gate.”
Joe nodded his head with a gentle smile.
From that day on, the two brothers spent more time on contemplating The Strong One, the One who sacrificed his life in order to say only one thing to all women and men of the world: “I love you!”
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.