Today’s Gospel reading was one I had heard many times, where Saint Luke recounts Christ’s answering of the question “will many be saved?”:
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
Our presiding priest started his homily today by pointing out how discouraging or even frightening these words are, that many who try to enter the narrow door (or gate, in some translations) will fail. He related the long journey of life as it’s own trial, and what do we find at the end? A narrow door that is very difficult to pass through. Pessimists might think that God is cruel, giving one last difficult task to undergo… but this isn’t the case if we take into account the second reading from Hebrews 12 (emphasis mine):
And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—
“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
or lose heart when you are punished by him;
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
He went on to explain that the trials that we face as we go through life are to discipline us how to best turn to God and release the baggage of sin, attachment to anger and distrust, and the myriad of other weights that prevent us from being able to slip through that narrow door.
I read this Gospel for one of our homebound parishioners, and her caretaker asked if I thought this meant all throughout life or just as we approach the end of the road. It was a good question. I answered that I think it means that we must always be striving for further discipline and self-awareness… I don’t know whether Christ was specifically intending this analogy to refer to the life’s daily trials or the major trials we face as we approach death, but the fact is we don’t know when our time will come.
The sobering point about Christ’s answer is this… He essentially answered the question “will many be saved?” with an analogy that points to an answer of “no, but many will try.” My main take-away from these readings is simple: it’s very important to know when one has baggage, and know when and how to drop it. Said differently, drawing from the second reading… discipline leads to peace and righteousness; peace and righteousness leads to Heaven.
In light of readings like this, I hope the lines to the confessionals are backed up out the door next weekend.