There is so much in today’s gospel, I hardly know where to begin. I think we should probably start with the question that is posed to our Lord: "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" Isn’t this a strange question to begin with? Is this man truly concerned about those who will be saved, or is he really asking about if he will be saved? I am already thinking that beating around the bush is probably not the best approach with our Lord!
And how does Christ answer him? Well, he doesn’t really answer the question that is posed. He gives the man some unsolicited advice, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate…." I am sure there is a whole textbook filled with debates over translations and choice of words here. But I do find the word "strive" interesting. He doesn’t just say "enter," he says "strive to enter." In other words, it sounds to me as if there is a serious bouncer at this door. This is not the kind of person you can sweet talk or bribe. You have to work to get through this door. And it doesn’t sound very easy. Think about a narrow door way. Let’s be honest, in this country especially, many of us are wide! Can we shimmy through this door way? Can we wedge our way in? I am guessing that all that worldly wealth we worried about acquiring is not fitting through this door. All those things that seem so important to us will probably not make it through this door-it’s just us.
"Many . . . will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." Well, now it appears the news is getting worse. Apparently there will be throngs of people clamoring to get in. But I wonder, what does strength have to do with getting through this door? It takes commitment and faith and sacrifice and repentance to get through this door. It seems to me there are many other doors we could be choosing-sin, temptation, evil. So many easier pathways than this narrow passage. Clearly, it is not for the faint of heart. It takes strength.
And as those left out in the cold begin to realize that they are being denied entrance, the real commotion will begin: "Lord, open the door for us." But our Lord won’t even know us then: "I do not know where you are from." It won’t be enough that we simply "ate and drank" in the Lord’s company. There will be no name dropping, no tallying of how many times we attended Mass or how many sweets we gave up for Lent. No, you have to really know the host personally and intimately to get into this party. Just as important, Christ has to know us. And there will be "wailing and grinding of teeth" for those left out.
People will be admitted from every corner of the world. But the surprising thing might be exactly who is in this elite group, "For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last." Being "first" here on earth has its superficial privileges-status and power perhaps. But that is not your ticket into this shindig. (Not to say it keeps you out). But when it comes time to arrange this guest list, all these earthly definitions of righteous and deserving go out the window. Criminals, homeless people-the least among us-may well be first in line.
What waits for us beyond this narrow passage is eternal salvation. In other words, it’s the hottest ticket in town.
Marlo Serritella is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.