Narrow Gate-Effort expected!
Apart from politics, social justice issues, relationships and sports, I think people never stop raising the question the person in the Gospel asked Jesus. Will everyone be saved? Will some end up weeping and grinding their teeth forever? Are there some for whom prayer didn’t work?
There have always been, among preachers, two sorts of people. There have been prophets of hell and the anger of God, and there have been sentimental believers in a good God pardoning everyone. The trouble with the first group is a false image of both God and humans. The trouble with the second group is an insufficient recognition of human responsibility and the human vocation to respond to God’s call.
We could sum up the teaching of the Church in three points. First, God wants salvation and friendship for every person. God offers salvation and friendship to each and every one. God does this in one way or another, not in the same way for everyone. God does it most explicitly in Jesus and in the church, but God has other ways we don’t actually know in any detail. And we ought to stop guessing! God is infinite and we are just finite beings!
Secondly, every human person is responsible for his/her life and final future. Each of us can separate ourselves from God. We don’t all do that in the same way. Some try to do it by fighting God. Others try to do it by doing evil to other people. It is possible for a human person to take such a position without ever repenting. We need to take account of the possibility of some people excluding themselves from salvation. In this light, God is good, but not goody-goody. God leaves us room to be human. For God to interfere with our ability to do evil would make all of us less human.
Thirdly, no human person can judge anyone else. God alone knows the human heart. None of us can ‘do’ the last judgment! There is secrecy about it, between God and each person. That is why we are entitled to hope and pray that very many, indeed the whole of the human race, will go through the gate into heaven. The gate may be narrow, but God is not narrow.
Jesus minces no words in today’s gospel. He says that to enter the kingdom of God, a person has to struggle. One does not simply chance upon God’s kingdom. So, when Jesus speaks of the narrow gate, he is saying that salvation is not a birthright or something guaranteed. It depends on our active cooperation with God’s grace — the real effort to love God and follow his will. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And Jesus warned that not everyone who cries out, “Lord, Lord…” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of his Father in heaven. Discipleship requires discipline. This word is mentioned five times in today’s reading from the Letter to Hebrews. Self-discipline is the way we develop the character to be able to fit through the narrow door that leads to the Kingdom of God.
Many of us do want to keep fit and healthy. Health care personnel constantly remind us of the necessity of exercise and strength training for physical well-being. We do not deny the validity of what they are saying, but unless we put their reminders into action we cannot make remarkable progress. If our relationship with God is important, we must work at it. We need to ask ourselves today: what more can I do to know, love, and follow Christ better? In other words turning reminders into action.
When people meet the real Jesus in Scripture, lives change, hearts heal, and the grace and power of our baptism is unleashed to make us “ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Such transforming encounters with Jesus change how we know him, how we see ourselves, and we live. I encourage you to encounter Jesus in the Bible with a small group. It is where you’ll find a supportive community to help each other in the challenges of college life. These groups are student-led and meet on campus or in the dorms. They are welcoming regardless of beliefs. It is worth a shot!