4th Sunday of Easter
In the Sermon on the Mount one of Jesus’ more sobering teachings is “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” In Saint Luke’s Gospel, when someone asks Jesus “Will only a few be saved?” He answers in almost the same words. Taken by themselves these sayings of Jesus would seem to imply that only a few will find salvation. At the same time, Scriptures also tell us that God wills all people to be saved. This sounds like a contradiction, but is it?
The answer may lie in another discourse with His disciples. After He tells them how difficult it will be for the rich to be saved they ask Him “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replies by telling them that salvation for all of us on our own is impossible, but not for God. No matter how hard we strive to get through that narrow gate, we will not be able to do so without God’s help. And that might give us a perspective on today’s Gospel.
Jesus tells us that He, Himself, is the sheep gate. It is only through Him that we can find entry into the Kingdom as members of His flock. The narrow gate is not some impersonal object that we have encounter. It is the Person of Christ, Himself, lovingly calling to us by name and doing everything that He can to keep our feet on the narrow path that leads to eternal life. Jesus alone makes it possible for us to get through to find pasture. Nevertheless, He still warns us that those who attempt to get in any other way are thieves and robbers. We have to listen for His voice and respond. And we thus have to come to get closer and closer to Him each day so that we can truly know Him and so recognize His that voice.
If we fail to form that intimate relationship with Christ through prayer, study, and keeping His commandments then we are likely to become attracted to other voices and mistake them for that of Christ. These other voices are those that lead us to destruction by inviting us to climb over the fence so to speak. These voices are the ones that falsely tell us that the pastures they point to are greener than the Lord’s. These are the voices of worldliness, materialism, secularism, etc. that try to convince us that true happiness lies only in the things we know in this life. These are the voices that try to convince us that life ends with death and so we should “eat, drink, and be merry” before we die. These are the voices of Satan, himself.
But, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will go after us even when we go astray. Jesus will come looking for us and for as long as we are alive will constantly, and lovingly call us to return to Him. He indeed laid His life down for us and will do whatever is necessary to keep us from being lost. Nonetheless, He will never force us to come home to Him. We have to freely respond and seek His mercy when we go astray. We cannot presume that just because wills all of to be saved we can do whatever we want and God will automatically be forgiven. When we become lost, we have to allow ourselves to be found.
Throughout the history of the Church, Jesus’ teaching about the narrow and wide way has led alternately to optimism and pessimism about who and how many will be saved. If nothing else, it certainly reminds us that we can never take salvation for granted. But, knowing that Jesus, Himself, is that narrow way that leads to eternal life should give us hope. Thus, as priest friend of mine remarked, those who find salvation are those who say to God throughout their lives “Not my will, but your will be done” while those who fail are those to whom God must say to them in judgement those very same words.