Jesus was a great traveller, always on the move. What drove him was the Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom. Somehow it was a burden to him that there were people who had not yet heard it and so he kept moving: Through towns and villages he went …
Of course, you realise, Jesus is still travelling today, still on the move, still bringing the Good News to the towns and villages of the world. He has handed this great task over to the Church, his body, and the energy for this mission comes from the same source, the need to bring the Word to all who have not yet heard it or responded to it.
And so today Jesus comes to our town. You have just heard his word proclaimed in the readings from the prophet Isaiah, from Hebrews, and from the Gospel of Luke.
Jesus comes to us as he came to the towns and villages of Palestine - teaching. He is going to teach us something tonight.
Have you ever realised that Jesus’ travelling is part of his teaching? His travelling was not aimless; it had a direction. When we connect the dots we see he is, as the Gospel says: making his way to Jerusalem … his own narrow door, the place of his suffering. Jesus does not just teach the truth; he lives it. In fact, Jesus is the truth.
Someone said to him, `Sir, will there be only a few saved?'
The ‘Jews’, those Jews opposed to Jesus, used to imagine that there would be only a few saved and that they would be the few. They thought themselves pleasing to God for the same reason they found themselves pleasing; because they scrupulously kept all the little details of their man-made laws.
Jesus doesn’t argue the case. As we have observed time and again during the election campaign our politicians refuse to answer questions because often they seek to hide the truth; Jesus frames his answer to precisely illuminate it.
He teaches his listeners, and us, that the real question we should be asking is not ‘Will many be saved?’ but ‘Will I be saved’? This is why he changes the future tense to a present imperative: Try your best to enter by the narrow door…
- try – now - the door is open now.
- your – don’t worry about others.
- best – (Greek: agonizesthi = struggle) – with every fibre of our being.
Before us, uncompromisingly, stands the narrow door. The Greek word also includes the sense of straight and would therefore preclude anything crooked from entering the Kingdom.
We love wide doors with plenty of room to ‘wiggle’. The modern phenomenon amongst all too many Catholics to recast the Faith, to do away with the ‘narrow’ bits like contraception and abortion, gay relationships and Sunday obligations, is a clear expression of this tendency to accommodate the truth to suit the comfortably 'wide' ethics of the world.
But Jesus makes it plain that we can’t saunter in casually at our own convenience and on our own terms: I tell you, many will try to enter and not succeed.
The narrow door to the Kingdom is an illustration of the narrow demands of discipleship. This door stands open now and the merciful love of God invites us now to strive with all our might to enter by it because: Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door …
The gentle phrase ‘you may find yourself’ is intriguing and evocative. We have all had the experience of pushing on the bank door only to find it locked. We push and pull but the door doesn’t budge; it’s closed and locked; trading hours have finished. And if we manage to attract the notice of the bank teller and ask to be let in he will point to the clock and shake his head.
The key point here is that this ‘surprise’ we feel (gosh, is it 4 pm already, I thought it was only 3 pm?) before the locked door, will not alter the fact that it is locked.
‘I thought‘ will not count against the Lord’s clear warning: I tell you...
To our surprise we may find ourselves arguing the case as we did so often in our lives, making excuses for our sins, giving ourselves privileges, seeking exemptions.
Notice again the past tense? "We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets" We have all heard the equivalent story in our own day. “Our lamps were once lit. I used to pray, I used to go to Mass. I used to be an altar boy. I used to be good.”
God will not be wheedled into admitting into his Kingdom those who ignored, or changed, his teaching in favour of some past superficial acquaintance. Rather than the presumptuous overconfidence so prevalent among us today I would speak in favour of a healthy fear. 'I’ve always been a Catholic, I’ve always been to Mass, I’ve always been a priest. Is it possible that I have still never let him convert and change me – that it has all left me just as selfish, gossiping, judgmental, dishonest, money-hungry, self-seeking and impure as always?'
Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside.
Yes, indeed, if you have been creating ‘wriggle room’ for yourself by adapting the Church’s teachings to your own preferences I would counsel fear. Be afraid, very afraid. Have done with that complacency. Get rid of that false confidence and listen again to the Lord’s words: Try your best to enter by the narrow door…