Gospel: Luke 13:22-30
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 the 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.”
I have very dear friend named Sam. Initially, what drew me to him years ago was our shared interest in cars and the Giants. Over the years, I have grown to really admire him. Sam is in recovery and has been sober for more than 25 years now. And as anyone who is in recovery will share with you, the time leading up to sobriety is just plain awful. Pain is your constant companion whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual. People in recovery often say that they’ve gone to hell and back.
Here’s the thing though, while Sam’s sobriety is in itself admirable, that’s not entirely what commands my respect. Sam has chosen to be a sponsor and mentor to those who find themselves struggling with addiction. He has been doing this for years. Sam is a husband and a father. He actively participates in the lives of his children. He has a day job. With all of this, he finds the time to offer compassion and mercy to folks who are truly suffering.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is asked if only a few will 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.”
There was a point in Sam’s life when he was as far away from that narrow gate as you could possibly imagine. Now, Sam finds himself holding that gate open for others. He knows what it’s like to suffer, to be in pain. He also knows that addiction can be the cruelest of adversaries. Now, with mercy in his heart, he also chooses to guide others towards that narrow gate.
As Jesus says, “many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
Sam lived this. He will readily admit that it is only through God’s grace that he found sobriety. He now cherishes that gift of grace. He openly displays his gratitude by choosing sobriety and by helping others do the same.
God’s love and forgiveness are a gift. We don’t always deserve it and we certainly cannot earn it. His love is a gift, given freely without condition or reservation. But here’s the thing. No gift can be given unilaterally. Successful gift giving requires both giving AND receiving. If we intentionally refuse the gift, if we knowingly turn away from God’s love, then it is as if no gift was ever given.
Jesus says in today’s gospel, that the Master will refuse to open the door and will say, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!”
Jesus is referring to those people, who are presented with the gift of God’s grace, and either refuse it or worse yet, accept the gift but never give God the credit for it. For example, Sam received God’s gift of grace which moved him to sobriety. Sam could easily have said that he got sober all on his own; that the hand of Jesus was not present in all of the folks who helped him along the way to sobriety. That it was all Sam. I can assure you, having this attitude would not have put Sam in a position to guide others to sobriety. It is precisely that Sam so treasures the gift of God’s grace that he allows God to work through him as he helps others.
The reality is that the road is tough and that the gate is narrow. But also true is the reality that God loves us beyond measure. He created us. God wants to show the personalized love he has for each of us at every opportunity possible. His capacity to offer love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness knows no bounds. He wants for all of us to enter through that gate. He doesn’t make the gate narrow, WE DO. He doesn’t ever turn away from us…EVER. We are ones that turn away from him. Jesus is quite clear in the way he directs us this morning. Strive towards the narrow gate. He knows it’s not easy and that is why he places people like Sam along the road. God wants all of us to return to him.
The Gospel passage ends with a beautiful image where people will come from north, south, east, and west to recline at table with Jesus and share a meal as a community. In a few short moments we will find ourselves doing just that as we approach the altar. We will receive Jesus in the form of the Eucharist. In doing so we move closer towards that narrow gate and are charged with helping others do the same.