The Challenge of Being Saved
by Rev. Marcus Pollard
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" He answered them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open the door for us.' He will say to you in reply, 'I do not know where you are from.' And you will say, 'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.' Then he will say to you, 'I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!' And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
The Gospel reading this Sunday, in which Our Lord addresses the challenge of being saved is a frequent theme in the gospels and throughout the New Testament. In the context of parish life this topic comes up most frequently on the lips of parents who are concerned for the salvation of their wayward children. Another frequent setting in which it arises is in discussions about the differences between the way the church has received and understands the Lord’s teaching compared to how it is found in other Christian denominations.
One way to launch into a brief examination of the Gospel reading is to compare it to the other time a similar discussion and image is found in St. Matthew’s Gospel:
In Luke: “Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’ He answered them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough’” (Lk 13:23-24).
In Matthew: “enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few: (Mt 7:13-14).
One of the chief differences that appears in looking at the two texts is that in Matthew the challenge concerns “finding” the narrow gate. In Luke the challenge is whether or not a person attempting to enter the narrow gate of salvation is “strong” enough.
Why the difference?
It could be that when St. Matthew was being guided by the Holy Spirit in his composition of the Gospel and especially the Sermon on the Mount, where this is found, he recalled Our Lord’s desire that salvation be offered to the Jewish people through the preaching and ministry Jesus began and the church was continuing. That same emphasis was being stressed for St. Matthew’s readers (converts from Judaism).
With St. Luke, not only was his intended audience broader, but the pastoral issue he had in mind might have been a bit different. In his case the guidance of the Holy Spirit would have helped him recall Jesus addressing this matter as He approached Jerusalem and the consummation of His public ministry. For the disciples, at that time and later as St. Luke was writing, Jesus’ words and then example would have reminded them of the need to persevere, to let the word that has been sown in the hearts bear fruit.
I believe that it’s not that St. Matthew and St. Luke recalled Our Lord’s words differently, but that the matter came up more than once during the three years of His public life and ministry. So between St. Matthew and St. Luke we have two of the times Jesus used this image of the narrow way and gate to teach about salvation.
What does this mean for us?
The image of finding salvation through finding the narrow gate speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us offering the faith to others, i.e., evangelization. It would be great to say that we can do this primarily by our good Christian example. However, the example we set is really about giving credibility to our words. As all the men being ordained deacons are admonished by the bishop, the Lord invites and admonished us: “Receive the Gospel of the Lord: believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach.”
The image of having the strength to be able to enter through the narrow gate speaks to the need to cooperate with Our Lord. He desires our salvation more than we do. He knows how weak we are. He knows our struggles. He knows the guidance and enlightenment and encouragement and healing we need in order to be faithful, to grow in His love and truth and enter the glory of heaven. The strength is really about not resisting, going to him in our weakness and letting the Holy Spirit transform us. As St. Paul said: “but He (the Lord) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor.12:9-10).
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