Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

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The Heavenly Banquet

Luke 13:22-30

Jesus passed through town 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 the 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.”

In today’s Gospel we meet Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. He is asked a straightforward question: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answers indirectly, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that He is the line of demarcation between those who will be saved and those who will be damned. It is not race, or wealth, or status, or political connections, or earthly power that will determine if one is saved. It is relationship with Jesus. Where do I stand with Jesus? Even here, however, it isn’t merely being associated with Jesus that saves one, for those who ate and drank in His company are also left outside. It is following Jesus, listening to His teaching and striving to conform our will to His will, to follow His way, to embrace His teaching and transform our lives accordingly. We are saved by Jesus and no other. This doesn’t mean that only Catholics will be saved, or even that only Christians will be saved. The law of God is written in the heart of every man. But it does mean that all who are saved are saved by Jesus, for there is no other Name under heaven by which men are saved.

Our contemporary culture doesn’t much like the idea of Jesus being the one who saves. Rather than subscribing to a theology of salvation by Jesus, our culture favors more a theology of salvation by nice. If you’re nice, you’ll go to heaven. If you’re not nice, or you’re mean, you’ll go to hell. Some in the Church have bought into this theology of salvation by nice and recommend accommodating the morals of the culture to make the Church seem nicer to modern people. The problem with salvation by nice is that every age has its own idea of what it means to be nice. Being nice, too, can sometimes get in the way of speaking the truth. Years ago, I was participating in a pro-life event where people lined up on the street holding pro-life signs to take the message out into the streets for people to see. I held up a sign that read: “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.” A friend of mine, who was Catholic, drove by with a friend of hers and saw me holding the sign. She later rebuked me for doing so, because her friend had had an abortion and the sign upset her friend. So, you see, in holding up such a sign I wasn’t being nice. Being nice sometimes means you’re not supposed to speak the truth, because the truth offends people, and it isn’t nice to offend people.

There are times when we must decide if we are going to stand with Jesus or stand with the culture, or with the state, or with our job. In Nicaragua for the last four years, the socialist regime of dictator Daniel Ortega has been at war with the Church. Priests have been kidnapped or exiled from the country. Catholic radio stations have been closed. Churches have been set aflame. Even as we speak, Bishop Rolando Alvarez is being held captive by the military with priests and laymen in a church in Matagalpa. Journalists have written that being a Catholic in Nicaragua today is basically illegal.

In China, the Catholic Church that is loyal to the pope remains underground, their bishops and priests constantly at risk of being imprisoned. In many countries across the Middle East, Catholics and other Christians worship Christ at the risk of their lives. Even here in the United States, the Biden administration is seeking to adopt policies forcing Catholic hospitals, Catholic doctors, and Catholic nurses to perform abortions, sterilizations, and sex-change operations. What will these Catholic hospitals do? What will these Catholic doctors do? Will they be nice and go along to get along, or will they strive to enter through the narrow gate, the gate that requires not only claiming to know Jesus but living according to His teaching and transforming our lives according to His will, even if doing so means accepting severe consequences.

We are all invited to follow Jesus. But following Jesus means more than simply claiming His name, claiming to know Him, claiming to be His friend. It means to follow His way. Following Jesus’ way will sometimes mean consequences in a world and a culture that do not look fondly on Jesus and His way, or that wishes to re-shape Jesus into a nicer Savior. Those who like Jesus’ company but do not wish to commit themselves to following Jesus’ way will find themselves on the outside when the door is locked. They will protest, “Lord, open the door. You know us! We ate and drank with you. You taught in our streets.” And the Master will say, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, you evildoers!” Those who choose not only to know Jesus but follow Him will be welcomed into the heavenly banquet.

Strive to enter through the narrow gate. Choose today whom you will follow.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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