Sunday Scripture: The narrow gate
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
By Terrance Callan
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
One way to create a large, diverse group is to include in it everyone who wants to be included. However, a sizable, diverse group can also arise when the requirements for admission are strict, but all are invited to meet them.
In the reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus seems to indicate that the requirements for salvation are strict. Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate,” and goes on to say that many will not be strong enough to do so. They will appeal to their association with Jesus, but He will say He does not know where they are from and will send them away. The reading does not explain exactly what is meant by the narrow gate. But it may partly be an image of the suffering one must endure as a true follower of Jesus.
The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews explicitly speaks of the suffering that we experience as Christians. Quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, the author interprets this suffering as the discipline that God uses to train us as God’s children. Just as parents discipline their children out of their love for the children, so it is with God. God disciplines us out of love for us, and this discipline brings forth the fruit of peace and justice. By looking at our sufferings in this light, we can endure them more easily, and strengthen our “drooping hands” and “weak knees.”
The reading from the Gospel of Luke also speaks of the inclusion of all nations in the kingdom of God. Jesus says that people will come from east, west, north and south and will take their place in the kingdom. Despite the difficulty of entering through the narrow gate, many people throughout the world will do so. This will fulfill prophecies like that found in the reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In this prophecy Isaiah foresees a time when the God of Israel will be acknowledged by nations of every language. These nations will bring to the Lord the people of Israel who have been living in their midst. They will bring the dispersed Israelites as an offering to the Lord; therefore, some of the nations will become priests and Levites in the Lord’s service.
In the reading from Luke, Jesus contrasts the Gentiles who will find a place in the kingdom, with those Jews who will fail to come in through the narrow gate. The reading from Isaiah speaks of “fugitives,” a word that could also be translated “survivors” and may refer to the Israelites who survive divine judgment; the larger passage from which this reading is taken makes it clear that the unfaithful in Israel will be destroyed. But the reading from Isaiah also says that it is these faithful Israelites who make God known to the nations. This is not explicit in the reading from Luke, but it is taken for granted there. Jesus himself, along with those Jews who do come in through the narrow gate, are the faithful Israel through which the Gentiles come to share in the kingdom of God.
Not only do we need to be aware that Gentiles have become followers of Jesus through the missionary efforts of Jewish Christians, we also need to be cautious in what we think about those Jews who did not become followers of Jesus. As the Second Vatican Council taught, the Jews are God’s chosen people, and God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues (see Romans 11:28-29).
Terrance Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.