Jesus’ answer to the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”, is a paradox. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate,” he begins. These words would seem to suggest that the Kingdom of God, like the marines, is looking for a few good men (and women). Yet later on in the passage Jesus states that “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.” These words coupled with the vision in the first reading from Isaiah give the impression of a vast collection of souls within the kingdom.
So, which is it? As with any good paradox, the purpose is to bother our minds enough that we begin to think? Is there any way we can imagine that BOTH statements could be true?
Here’s one way I came up with. Perhaps the “narrow gate” is a figure of speech that basically means – “If you’re going to enter the kingdom, you’re going to have to follow the road that will lead you to become more and more authentically yourself. You cannot be someone you are not, or fulfill your commitments halfway, or only half-heartedly share yourself with others if you wish to be a part of the kingdom.”
However – don’t expect that those who enter the narrow gate will conform to any particular definition of “good person” or “Christian” or “Roman Catholic”. Those who enter the narrow gate will come from everywhere including from among those who we have decided are on the “outs” with God. Over and over again in the scriptures is the warning – the surest road to oblivion is to convince yourself that you are on God’s VIP list and someone else is not.
What I often say to my students is this: Be careful about how you treat others, because you never know to whom you’ll be passing the bread plate at the banquet table in the kingdom of God!
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
(If you enjoy these reflections, my book length works on the Bible are available through Twenty Third Publications (www.twentythirdpublications.com)