Geography is important to the Gospel writer Luke. Notice in this passage that Jesus is making his way down through towns and villages to his ultimate destination, Jerusalem, where he will face his own suffering and death. It was during this trip that someone asks him a question many who believe in God have asked themselves before and since: "Lord, will only a few be saved?" Jesus responds: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate…For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
While at first glance, we may have preferred a more direct "Yes or No" response from Jesus; I think the tone of the passage, as well as the story Jesus tells deserves a prayerful look.
Jesus tells the questioner to "strive." Luke uses the Greek term "agonizomai" which originally meant to "engage in an athletic contest" or "to fight, struggle." So what is the "striving" Jesus is talking about? He makes it quite clear that evil doers will not be able to enter, nor those who claim friendship with him due to eating and drinking in his presence. Not even those who knock and cry out: "Lord, open the door to us." In fact, in a startling ironic twist, Jesus says that those who will recline at table in God’s Kingdom will be the least, the last, and the lost.
In this parable, the good guy (or gal) finishing last, actually does win!
And they win because they possess the key to open the door. And that key is one of "metanoia" – repentance- striving daily to change ones heart and mind to Kingdom based values and actions, rather than those based on ego, power, wealth, and prestige.
For those who strive in this way, the last line of today’s gospel is truly "good news" – "some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last."
Patrick Quinn is the director of Planned Giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.