One of the most difficult things in life is to give someone bad news. It is instinctively something we wish to avoid, but it is better once it is done. This morning’s Gospel has some difficult sayings of Our Lord, which aren’t easy to proclaim, or to listen to. That does not mean that they should not be ignored or glossed over. There are times when Jesus’ words in the Gospel make us feel uncomfortable and uneasy. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our faith should challenge us. Challenge us to follow Christ. Challenge us to live out our faith in our lives. As we all know, this isn’t easy. It is hard work, requiring effort on our part. And yet the effort we put in is as nothing compared to that of God, who sent His Son to be born for us, and to show us how to live. Jesus demonstrates the Love of God in action, to show us how to live lives of radical generosity.

Jesus and His disciples are making their way towards Jerusalem, teaching in the towns and villages, en route. 

‘And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”’ (Lk 13:23)

This is the big important question: who will be saved? Many or few? Jesus does not answer the question directly: 

‘And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’, then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’”’ (Lk 13:23-25)

Instead, Our Lord gives us advice: strive to enter through the narrow door. This is very much like His advice in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:13-14)

What Jesus is proposing is that the way to salvation is the harder path, the narrow door or gate. He is inviting people to go in. The way through is by faith, trusting in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and by living that faith out in our lives. Once I was travelling to Cologne to take part in a choir tour of Germany. I was meant to be travelling with a friend who wasn’t good at being on time. He didn’t make it to our flight on time, and was told that the gate was closed, and that he could not board the flight, and had to take a flight the next day. He was upset, and was in a bad mood for days afterwards. No one likes to be told ‘No’, but time matters if you want to catch a flight. Jesus is telling his audience that time matters — they have heard the Good News of the Kingdom, and they need to respond to the invitation: are they in or out?

The people in the parable attempt to justify themselves, but God has other plans:

‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ (Lk 13:26-27)

People presume that because they have eaten and drunk with Jesus and heard Him teach that all is well. While they have enjoyed Jesus’ hospitality, they have not actually responded, they have not believed in who He is, and what He does. Rather than salvation being offered solely to the people of Israel, now the rest of the world is included. Everyone everywhere is invited. This is something radical, something new, which is first prophesied in the words of Isaiah. 

The prophet Isaiah has a vision of a future which sees a God who knows us and loves us. He gathers the people of the world together, so that they may see God’s glory. As Christians, we believe that this points forward to Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh, the true demonstration of God’s glory in the world. He will show that glory most fully on the Cross, when He suffers and dies for humanity, to take away our sin. This is the sign God sets among us, so that the Church may declare God’s glory among the nations. The Cross is the sign of God’s love for all people.

Declaring God’s glory is the prophetic aspect of the church — the sharing of the Good News. With it comes a commitment to holiness of life, so that our words and actions are in tune with each other. We cannot succeed in this by our own strength or efforts. Instead we must rely upon God’s grace. We should humbly acknowledge our need for God. Only Our Heavenly Father can transform us. Only God can forgive our sins, our failures and shortcomings. Through grace Christ can transform us, more and more into His likeness. 

This recognition of our limitations and failings opens up a space where God can be at work in our lives, transforming us to live the Divine life of Love. This is the narrow door of this morning’s gospel. Narrow because if we have a sense of our own self-importance or our worth which is too large then we cannot enter — our sense of who and what we are gets in the way.

These are not simple things to do. It is easier to coast along and take the easy options. That is why we meet together to encourage and support each other. That’s what the Church is for. We are a collection of sinners trying to live in response to the love of God that has been poured out on each of us. It is something which we need to do together — loving each other, loving our enemies, living out forgiveness as we have been forgiven and loved by God. This is a radically different way of life to that which the world encourages us to practise. Naturally we will sometimes fall short, but the point is not that we fail and give up, but that we keep trying. We must keep on loving and forgiving, together, and be built up as the body of Christ, humbly letting God be at work in us. He, by His Grace will transform our nature and make us the people of God, able to live out His out his love in our communities.

Living out our faith will be hard, others may mock us as we attempt to follow the  Gospel. Yet, we believe in a God who loves us, and who would never belittle our efforts to follow Him. As Christians we pray for the fire of God’s love to be kindled in our hearts and lives, so that we may be ablaze for Him, aflame with love for God and neighbour. Loving our enemies and our friends, enables us to change the world, not just this village, or this county, but all of God’s creation, all of humanity. In doing so we help others to know God’s love so that it may rule in their hearts and lives.

Let us then hasten to enter through the narrow gate, so that God may continue to transform our human nature. Let us then give thanks that His saving love and power is at work in our hearts and our lives, transforming us. Let us then sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

James Tissot – The First Shall Be Last [Brooklyn Museum]

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