He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many I tell you, will try to enter but will not be able to.” Luke 13:24
This section of the Gospel of Luke contains some very challenging sayings of Jesus: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”. (9:62); “He who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.” (12:9); “Do you think I have come to bring peace in earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (13:51); “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (14:27); etc.
The likewise troubling quote above comes as a response to a question asked of Jesus by one of those following him around: will the number of the saved be many or few? The image Jesus evokes in responding is of a very narrow opening into Paradise, with many folks trying to fit through that very narrow opening. It’s a thought provoking comment which has gotten me asking some questions…
Why might I not fit through this narrow gate? Well, if I’m puffed up with pride, or overburdened with possessions I’m attached to, or if I am carrying around old grievances like so much baggage, my “self” just might be a bit too bloated to fit through. Much might need to be stripped away through the gift of the fatherly discipline of the Lord, and if this is to be effective, it requires my efforts to cooperate with this sometimes painful disciplinary process.
How might I know if I am making progress? There are some indicators. If I find myself seeking to know Jesus more and more intimately by meditating on Scripture, especially the Gospels, that’s definitely an ingredient in making progress. If I am participating regularly in the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist), that’s a good sign and essential to my growth. If I’m spending time with him in prayer on a regular basis, cultivating his friendship, that is key. If I’m seeking to obey him promptly, fully and joyfully, this is a very good indicator. And if I’m looking for opportunities to serve him in others around me regularly, well, that’s good too. These are all evidences that my heart truly has been converted, turned around. I am exhibiting those fruits of repentance, evidences of the new life within me. The self is “slimming down” and getting ready to fit through the”narrow gate” Jesus speaks of that leads to eternal life.
This process is a cooperative effort though, not a walk in the park, which is why Jesus says, “strive”. I must grow to give him full permission to do with me whatever he wills, fully surrendering to his will: “Thy will be done…” He will strip me of the false self I have cobbled together in my brokenness – that inflated, overburdened, misshapen identity – and replace it with the true self his great love, mercy, wisdom and generosity intended for me from the beginning. For he longs for me to enter into Heaven, to be present with him for all eternity at the marriage supper of the Lamb, that eternal celebration.
He alone is able to give me what I have so vainly been searching for. He Himself is the remedy for all my ills, the solution to the problem of my distorted and broken self. The closer I get to him, the more I become a “yes” to him, the more of him in me, the more fully I bloom and grow, and – amazingly – the more possible it is for me to fit through that gate.
Below is a link to some rather sober sermon notes on this same passage from Pastor Chuck Smith: