C Cycle – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
Growing up in Louisiana it was not unusual to hear the song “when the Saints come Marching in” at a funeral. I believe we all can identify with one line in that song, which says, “Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints come marching in.” But the real issue is, if the gate to eternal life is narrow how can we ensure we will be worthy to enter. That desire motivates us to live our life in a way that we believe is acceptable to God. But if you think about it for a minute, that motivation to be acceptable to God means we have become responsible for our own salvation? Have we missed the point of the parable of the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well and the Prodigal Son? Have we become the older brother who strictly obeys the father only to discover he had never given the father his heart.
Strive to enter through the narrow gate for many will try but few will succeed. Scary words, blunt words, challenging words from the mouth of Christ. Most of us hear the words and instantly we examine ourselves to determine if we have done enough to enter. But what is the standard of holiness we believe we must meet to be worthy?
Jesus is, like every good coach, is giving us sound advice about what it takes to be certain about the standard of holiness expected of us. He is telling us we are easily sidetracked in our quest for holiness. We tend to believe eating and drinking in his company and teaching in his streets is enough.
If being faithful is not enough, if adhering to the law is not enough, if being obedient is not enough what will it take to enter that narrow gate. We need to look at this passage in the context of the entirety of the scriptures. Jesus told us he came to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness and bring us into the kingdom of light. Jesus also speaking to the religious leaders said, “you search the scripture believing in them you have eternal life, but you do not come to me for life.”
Are we repeating the error of the Pharisees, striving for the approval of God by how well we practice our faith? Are we missing the message of Christ that he is the only way to the Father, he is the sheep gate.
Jesus told us the way to destruction is wide and many will take it (Mt.7:13). He also told us no one comes to the Father except through him. He is the narrow gate, and we need to realize what that means for us. If we can grasp how critical it is to embrace Jesus and grasp his desire to reveal the Father to us, we would realize the narrow gate is not what we think it is. We do not enter the narrow gate because we are not holy enough. We do not enter it because we earned it by a life of sanctity, piety, and service. No, we enter it by realizing and embracing what Jesus has done for us. It is in embracing the parables the parable of the vine and the branches. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing on our own.
We cannot ever be holy enough, we cannot ever be good enough, we cannot ever do enough works of mercy or charity until we are rooted in Christ. When we are rooted in Christ, we approach the narrow gate with thanksgiving and praise, not in fear and trepidation.
Jesus is the way to the Father. The only way: Jesus is the gate that leads to life, and he is clearly telling us we can easily find ourselves believing we are doing everything right, but those things are only leading us away from God’s plan for us to be transformed. Each one of us needs to constantly be seeking the presence of Jesus and seeking the life he is offering us. We need to allow the Spirit to flood us and speak to our hearts about forgiveness, mercy, and discipleship.
Entering the narrow gate is frightening because it means we must listen more than act. We must surrender our plan for God’s plan for our holiness and allow the Spirit to make us holy. We must admit we are sinners in need of a savior
That narrow gate, the narrow path and the way to life is entered by surrendering not by striving. It is right before us, every time we raise our eyes to heaven, every time we look upon the image of Jesus on the cross. Jesus will show us the way and when he does, we will discover a God who desires to fill us with wonder and awe. We will also begin to understand the words of Jesus when he said, “if you believe, you will have eternal life.”