Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Times

August 21, 2016

Deacon Blaine Barclay


On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus has been teaching in the different towns and villages.  We know what he was teaching from the context in Luke and from the parallel passage in the gospel of Matthew, ’’Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’’ From Matthew we know that he has been teaching, ’’Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it’’. (Mat. 7:13-14) Or, as Jesus says in the gospel of Luke, ’’Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, we’ll try to enter and will not be able.’’ Jesus has been teaching about how narrow the gate is that leads to life.  And like his listeners in the story we tend to understand this as a narrow gate of exclusion, that only a small elect group will be saved, and the rest, well you know where they are going to end up?  This way of interpreting the narrow gate teaching can also produce a lot of anxiety and worries about whether or not we will be one of those who will manage to squeeze through the narrow gate.  So, instead of rejoicing and resting in the good news of salvation, in the knowledge of the deep love and tenderness that god has for me, I fall into the distraction of trying to earn God’s love so I can be worthy to fit into the narrow gate

Sisters and brothers, god’s love is not narrow, it is as wide as the east is from the west, as deep as the ocean, as wide as the arms of Christ stretched out upon the cross,’’ I’d love you this much’’. ‘Where can I run from your love, where can I hide from your face’, says the Psalmist.  No matter where we are, we can run, we can hide, but nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.

So what about the narrow gate?  How are we to rightly understand this teaching?  We know from John’s gospel that Jesus himself is the gate. ’’I am the gate for the sheep….  I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved….  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’’. (Jn. 10:7-10) So the gate, or the door, into the fullness of life that we call salvation, is a person, the person of Jesus.  The personal encounter with Christ is decisive, everything hinges on this door, this gate.  It is narrow, not because the love of God in Christ is narrow.  It is narrow because it is particular, concrete, face to face, ‘now is the day of salvation ‘, in the moment of encounter, of conversion.  It is narrow because it is personal.  I can’t squeeze through this gate in a group or a crowd.  There is no such thing as an, ’’anonymous Christian’’.  Being a nominal Catholic will not be enough, we are not saved because we belong to a club, or because we know a secret handshake.  Of course, neither are we saved as isolated individuals.  Without ceasing to be communal, after all it is the faith of the church; faith is a personal act of trust in the love of God revealed to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Saint Augustine tells us that ‘God loves each one of us as if we were the only one’.  The gate is narrow because it is personal.

There is another reason that the gate is narrow.  For the same reason that Jesus teaches that it will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.  We will not be able to get through if we’re clinging to a lot of baggage, a lot of stuff, a lot of idols in which we place our trust, and from which we get our sense of security.  Like in the baptismal liturgy of the early Christians, we can only go through this gate, this door, naked, stripped of the status and trappings of the old fallen human nature, ready to be clothed with the white garment of new life in Christ.

The commitment to Christ and his cause is meant to be total and transforming, not because of our own efforts, as if we could earn our way through the narrow gate, but because of the ever prior claim of the love of God’s self-communication in Christ.  Our task, to surrender to the discipline of discipleship, to be the leaven of his word in the world, and to call each of the others to enter the narrow gate of God’s wide mercy.