The Catholic Liturgy for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Aug. 25, 2019. Gospel of Luke 13:22-30. Theme: The Narrow Gate
Jesus always used mental pictures, memories of experiences from everyday life, to help convey his teachings. In this way, his lessons had a deeper real life meaning to people. He could convey so much more by means of images and memories than by just words alone.
And Jesus does just that in today’s gospel when teaches about salvation and makes mention of to “the narrow gate”. He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will try to enter but will not be strong enough.” And the people knew exactly what he was referring to because the temple of Jerusalem, like any protected place, was a fortified building. As a defense against enemies or looters, it was surrounded by high walls with only a few means of entry.
There was the broad main gate that was open during the day and through which many people could enter at the same time. It was guarded but not very restricted; very much like the entrances to amusement parks or sports arenas today. However, the main gate wasn’t the only means of entry. Access was provided for qualified people by means what were called “the narrow gates.”
These restricted access entries were built into the walls at various locations and were somewhat hidden. Some of them were simply slits wide enough for only one person at a time to pass through carefully. Others were built above ground level so that you had to climb up into them. While still others were made very low requiring a person to stoop down in order to gain entry.
Jesus is telling us that attaining salvation, that is, reaching heaven, can be very much like using those narrow gates. The Kingdom of God doesn’t have an easy-access main gate through which we can pass without giving it a second thought. This is why he says that many try but fail. They aren’t strong enough spiritually. They don’t have the intention or put out the effort. Their relationship with God is not valued as a top priority in their lives.
But, no matter what type of narrow gate it was – a thin slit in the wall, a step-up or a stoop down doorway, they all had three things in common. 1. You had to know where they were located. 2. You had to know how to gain access to them. And 3. You had to be determined because all of them required intention and effort. And so, Jesus directs us to learn some vital lessons about salvation from the narrow gates.
First, we have to know where we find the gate to heaven. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us the answer when he declares, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” We heard these words of Christ chanted today by the cantor during the Alleluia. They remind us that there is no other means of entry into God’s Kingdom, no other gateway to heaven, except through Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior.
Second, we have to know where to go to gain access to this Gate. We go to the Catholic Church which has received the Scriptures and the Sacraments from God himself. Gaining access to Christ the Gateway to salvation is actually why the Church exists and it is the whole point of the Gospels and of the Sacraments. Both are meant to help us experience a personal encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. They enable us to be re-energized and strengthened to keep on striving for that narrow gate of salvation.
Third and finally, it seems to me that in today’s Gospel, Jesus is asking us to honestly and humbly make an important self-assessment of our spiritual condition. He has warned us that some of us will not be strong enough to make our way through the narrow gate. And so, perhaps we would do well to ask ourselves: Am I devoting enough time to prayer, to the Eucharist, and to reflecting on the Gospels so as to build up my spiritual muscles and become fit for the Kingdom of God?