Isaiah 66:18-21, Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13, Luke 13:22-30
The Gate that leads to Life
Immediately after I read through the readings today, I remembered the inspiring story of a butterfly. One day a small gap appeared in a cocoon, through which the butterfly had to come out of the cocoon. So a boy was accidentally passing by and stopped to watch how the butterfly was making an effort to get out of the cocoon.
It took a lot of time for the butterfly to get out of the cocoon because of the small and narrow gap. Then the butterfly was trying very hard to get out of the small gap.
The boy saw this and pitied the butterfly and then decided to help the butterfly get out of the cocoon. He took a pen knife and cut out the cocoon. This enabled the butterfly to come out immediately.
The boy made it easy for the butterfly but the body of the said butterfly became weak and the wings were not moving. Because of this, the butterfly could not fly. The boy did not know that the said butterfly needed to struggle and pass through the narrow gap to be able to develop the strength to fly. The narrow gap was necessary for the butterfly to have a full life.
The boy did not realize that the effort to enter through the narrow gap of the cocoon was necessary for the butterfly; it would enable the life-giving fluid to move from the body to the butterfly’s wings so that the butterfly could fly.
When we reflect through the readings of today, the first, second and the gospel, we can see the parallel relationship between this story and the lessons of today’s readings. The second reading acknowledges that sometimes we have to pass through suffering, obstacles and challenges to be well groomed, just as the butterfly was struggling to pass through the narrow gap.
In the gospel, Jesus says that the gate that leads to life is the narrow gate. He advises us to always enter through the narrow gate. Let us now digest these readings in a bit-by-bit analysis.
God’s Universal Intention and Our Duty.
In 2 Peter 3:9, the author says God does not delay, is not slow about His promise, and does not wish that we perish but for all to come to repentance.
In 1 Timothy 2:4-6, Saint Paul writes that the will of God is for all to be saved. This is the idea Isaiah is trying to project in the minds of the Israelites in the first reading.
After the exilic experience, Isaiah speaks words of encouragement to the people. He promises them that the Lord is coming to gather the nations of every language.
How he will do it is to give them a sign and send some of their survivors to other nations: to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Moshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan, to the distant islands that have never heard of Him or seen His glory. They will now proclaim His glory to other nations.
So, it is the will of God to gather all nations to Himself for them to witness His glory. He will use the survivors of the exilic experience to fulfil this. Hence, it is His will that all souls should come to Him.
Therefore, to make this happen, the people must offer themselves for this mission. They will make of themselves an offering and sacrifice to the Lord. This requires sacrifice, effort, struggle, and grace.
It is through these, that they can bring their brothers to the Holy Mountain of God. The holy mountain signifies the place and presence of God. Therefore, to enter this holy abode requires them to make themselves an offering to the Lord.
Like Saint Paul says in Romans 12:1, we have to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. This is the nature of the gate that leads to life. It is when we choose daily to lay down our desires honouring and obeying God.
It is a call to be a living sacrifice, to live every minute of every day as an offering and service to the Lord. This is a way abandoned by many but the way that leads to eternal life. Hence, the gate that leads to life demands a lot of sacrifices, effort and the grace of God. This is why Jesus says that the gate that leads to life is narrow.
Enter through the Narrow Gate.
In the gospel today, Jesus goes through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’
But Jesus replied to him, ‘Try your best to enter through the narrow gate, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed”.
1. The first point here is that Luke does not tell us who the person is and the reason he asks the question. Hence, it was noted that there was a popular debate at that time among rabbis.
Some Rabbis believed and were teaching that all Jews would be saved, while the other group believed and said that it is only a few that would be saved. So, it could be that that is the reason the man is asking Jesus to get a clearer interpretation from the Lord.
2. But when we critically analyse the response from Jesus, we would observe that Jesus did not give a clearer or straightforward answer. He did not tell him yes or no. Rather, Jesus replied to him, ‘Try your best to enter through the narrow gate, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed”
3. In essence, the person is seeking to know if other people or just a few Jews would enter into God’s kingdom. His interest was in others, but Jesus refocuses His interest on his person. He is invariably asking him to seek his salvation.
The simple description of Jesus’ response can be put like this “if you want to be saved, you must enter the narrow gate”.
4. This in essence shows that God’s universal intention is that all must enter His kingdom of God as we see in the first reading.
The Kingdom of God is not for a few or many or a certain number of Jews but only those who are also willing to pass through the narrow gate.
Just like the butterfly in our introit story must pass through the gap of a cocoon to have a full life, anyone who is ready to be saved must pass through the narrow gate.
What is the Narrow Gate?
Narrow means something shorter, restricted, tight, and full of constraints.
Therefore, to enter through the narrow gate is a choice to go through the tighter and harder road.
It is the readiness to go through the door that is not chosen by many. Also, It is a choice to be different. It is a choice not to wander through the door that others wander easily.
Jesus uses the Greek word agonizesthe when He says “try your best to enter in by the narrow gate”. The Greek word means to strive, to make effort, to struggle etc.
In 1 Corinthian 9:25, Paul uses the word when he says that every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath. So they train intensively only to receive perishable gifts (1 Tim. 4:10), He also uses the word when talking about fighting the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7).
So, the implication here is that God expects us to cherish salvation as an athlete cherishes the victor’s crown.
We need to have the hunger for our salvation. We need that athlete’s discipline and determination in pursuing entrance through the narrow door. In essence, we have to work and make an effort towards achieving our salvation. We need to show the hunger for salvation, we have to strive towards it.
Just as the butterfly strives through the narrow gap of the cocoon to live, we have to strive through, to be saved. Jesus says that many do not wander through the road. Only a few do. Why? Because the road to eternal life or the gate that leads to life is not a road of luxury, enjoyment, pleasure, drinking and dancing.
Like the first reading, it is the road that is full of sacrifice, struggle against earthly temptations and sin, and determination to achieve heavenly glory.
Therefore, what it means is that we have to cherish salvation and work towards it with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
Jesus is the Gate that Leads to Life.
In John 10:7, Jesus identifies Himself as the gate or door to our salvation. In essence, the gate that leads to life is Jesus. To be saved, we have to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him.
Therefore, Jesus is the gate or door to our salvation.
Many people do not want this gate, that is why only a few wander through this door, for many have chosen the way of the world.
In the letter of saint James 4:4, James emphasises that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” and “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Paul also warns that “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7–8).
Therefore, it is either we choose the world or we choose the gate that leads to life. The gate of the world is full of luxury, pleasures, total relegation of our faith and disrespect to God. It is when we centre our minds on our earthly gains and we strive to achieve them rather than striving for the salvation of our souls.
This worldly road promises temporary pleasure and enjoyment but leads to eternal damnation. It is like the case of Adam and Eve. Hence, the road that leads to life is full of sacrifices, offering ourselves, efforts, prayers, and struggle against sin and temptation.
It also promises temporary suffering but leads to eternal life. Hence, people choose the one that promises damnation because of the temporary pleasure that it gives but abandons that one that gives eternal life because of the temporary struggle that accompanies it.
We forget the end but focus on the temporary. This is why the world abandoned the gate that leads to life; Jesus. We need a constant relationship with Jesus to be saved.
The Reason We must Strive to Enter.
To strive means to make a great effort to achieve something. It means to fight for something valuable to us.
1. Therefore, the first reason we have to strive for our salvation is that it is very important for our spiritual lives. If it is important to God that our souls should not be lost, then we have to show the same seriousness and efforts when it comes to the salvation of our souls.
2. It is also necessary to strive to enter the gate that leads to life because there are many obstacles already on the way. Temptations are obstacles, desire for material things only is an obstacle, some of our friends can also be our obstacles, the world itself is an obstacle, and the devil is an obstacle. The weakness of the human flesh is also an obstacle.
3. We must strive to enter the gate that leads to life because once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us” but by then, it is already very late.
Jesus says in the gospel, that the master can even disown us. Then, we will seek to enter and will not be able. This happens at the end of our lives, at our sick beds when we shall be looking for last-minute salvation but it won’t be available.
Therefore, the best time to seek the gate that leads to life is now. We have to act now because there will come a time when it is too late to enter.
Jesus needs More of Our Relationship.
In the gospel, Jesus says “Then we will find ourselves saying, “We once ate and drank in His company; you taught in our streets” but He will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!”
In speaking of those who are excluded from His presence, Jesus said they would claim that they knew something of Jesus and even had heard something of His teaching. But Jesus’ response would be “ I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me” all Jesus warns that it wasn’t enough to know something of Him or merely cram some bible quotations about him.
It is not merely speaking in tongues or going to church, Jesus wants more of us. Jesus needs our relationship. He had to know and recognize us. He wants to know us in the sense of a relationship.
To know more about someone we have to relate with the person. Therefore, the words of Jesus stress the importance of a close and deep relationship with Him. The gate that leads to life demands our closeness and deep relationship.
Not Every Suffering is Evil.
There are times we may have some temptations or pass through a lot, and we conclude that God has forgotten us. There are times, we go through a lot of pains and challenges and we think God has closed his eyes against us. We feel the world is crumbling, hence we do not know that God is still the one handling the steering.
It is not every suffering that is evil. Sometimes, to enter the gate that leads to life, we have to go through a lot of challenges and obstacles.
God sometimes uses those challenges to train and prune us. From the second reading, God can use some of those experiences to correct us. Therefore, as the reading suggests, we do not have to be discouraged.
The second reading even reveals that most times, those challenges and obstacles are proof of God’s love for us.
He says “For the Lord trains the ones that he loves and he punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Therefore, not every suffering is bad. Suffering can be part of our training.
It means that God is treating us as His own.
Later, we would see that these pains and punishment will bear fruit in peace and goodness. One day our injured limb will grow strong again.
Therefore, the journey to the gate that leads to life involves both the good times and bad times. All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose ( Romans 8:28).
1. There will be a time when things will not go the way you want. There may be times when you suffer betrayals and disappointments in life. Also, there may be a time you may make mistakes due to the weaknesses of the human flesh.
At some point in life, it may seem as if God has forsaken you. Let us still hold on to God at this time. God alone knows the reasons these are befalling us. God alone knows the reasons we are undergoing such hard experiences.
He may be using those experiences to teach us some lessons. He may also be using the experiences to refine us. It does not mean that God hates you. No. God also allows His beloved ones to undergo some experiences for reasons best known to Him. Therefore, the journey to the gate that leads to life involves both the good times and bad times.
2. The gospel in a way reveals to us the destiny of those who don’t strive to enter the gate that leads to life. Jesus says that there “Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth ”.
The mention of ‘weeping’ and ‘gnashing’ suggests suffering, despair, regrets and eternal damnation. Hence, if this is so, then it simply means that striving to enter the gate that leads to life is never an option. It is something we must do now to avoid regrets at last.
3. In the gospel, Jesus says that many will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. It means that there would be many from all over the world, from many nations together in God’s kingdom.
This seems to be a reply to the many Jewish people and rabbis of His day that think that salvation is only for the Jews, and not for the Gentiles.
This is also a response to many of us who think that our self-righteousness is already a ticket to salvation and others would be damned. Here, Jesus reiterates God’s universal intention that salvation is for all. But only those who desire it, work for it and strive for it, can get it at last.
4. Jesus is the surest way to enter the gate that leads to life. Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins and help us enter the narrow door to be saved.
To enter the narrow door we have to strive to enter it through enduring the struggles of life, overcoming temptations and making efforts to remain close to God.
In life there are times that we find it very hard to live and face a lot of challenges and difficult situations, sometimes we are in so much agony and pain. Hence, we have to consider these experiences as part of the process. We can overcome them if our love for Jesus is real.
5. This broad road is very wide and crowded. Jesus said many people go by it. Sometimes we hear things like “Everybody else is doing it.” It then means that the reason that we are doing that is that everybody else is doing it. This has led many astray. Sometimes it is good to stand alone.
We must not cheat because everybody is cheating. We must not steal or lie because everybody lies or steals. Sometimes we make the difference when we dare to stand alone. Let us always seek for the narrow gate. The gate that leads to life is narrow.
6. What will truly reveal if we truly love God are challenges and willingness to accept also the hard teachings of Jesus. To be disciples of Jesus, we do not only follow the easy teachings. We have also to follow the hard teachings.
Remember that in Luke 18:25-26, when Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. So, those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
So, following Jesus is not easy. It is not only about the miracle, blessings, healings and testimonies. So, we will also struggle. We must train ourselves to grow strong through difficulties and challenges. We must accept the hard teachings too.
Teachings like “Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor (Luke 12: 33) Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44), Take up your cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24-26) etc.
When Jesus was preaching, many people were attracted to his message of love, mercy, healing and blessings.
During the time of His suffering, many people turned away from Him. Only those who knew and loved him stayed around. Therefore, to enter the gate that leads to life, we must truly love Jesus and accept all His teachings both the easy and hard ones.
May God give us the grace to strive through the gate that leads to life. We shall overcome at last. Amen. Happy Sunday