“Will only a few be saved”? How this question must have annoyed Jesus! Here He was speaking of the good news of God’s love and revealing the path to God’s kingdom here on Earth and this bean counter wants to talk numbers; well not really numbers, this man wanted to know who will be saved and more specifically was he probably included in the saved group. From Jesus’ reply it is evident that He saw right through the veiled question and deep into the man’s self righteous heart. So, instead of answering the question, Jesus gives allegorical directions then a warning of the outcome if one fails to take His advice and, of course, a description of the reward for those who do walk the righteous path.
Jesus tells the man, and those listening to “strive to enter through the narrow gate”. The word translated as strive in the Greek is agonizesthe, meaning to contend for. So just like an Olympian who struggles to surmount all obstacles to win the gold we too must rise up to the challenge and it will not be easy to get through this narrow gate. Why is passing through this gate so challenging? Is it really, really narrow or perhaps has some complicated lock? Remember ancient cities were protected by walls, and in these walls were openings, the gates which were closed at night and during battle. The main gate was large and allowed carts of merchandise, people riding donkeys or horses and crowd of people to easily enter or exit. The main gate was also where the triumphant and royal would process in or out as a form of spectacle. The narrow or pedestrian gate was small and had sharp turns which made it difficult to navigate in armor let alone to draw ones sword and attack; this was the gate for the common people, the beggar, the slave to use. And when these gates are closed, as say during attack, entrance to the city is impossible, you are stuck out in the open, a victim to the raiding army.
But WHY must we agonize and struggle to enter the pedestrian gate, can’t we just walk in? Think about any adventure movie you have ever seen. After hauling all their precious equipment past impediments along the way, fighting off competitors and then finding the treasure, reaching the apex of the adventure the glorious moment always falls apart. After all their struggles and perils, our team of adventurers must hasten to escape or they will surely die; the only means of escape requires them to abandon their treasure, leave their evidence of victory and shed everything but the scraps of clothes on their back in order to survive. Inevitably there is one member who refused to leave the treasure behind, who agonizes over whether to relinquish the riches and fame and flee to safety or hold one to them and hope for the best.
This is the moment Jesus is speaking of, this is the struggle we must face if we wish to walk the path to the Father. We must be willing to divest ourselves of the baggage that weighs us down, holds us back, blocks us from escaping the impending trials of what life throws at us: greed, hate, envy, gluttony, the fear that we might lose out and someone else might beat us. It is a competition, but one where we only battle our own flaws and insecurities. We must always be ready to open our hands and let things go when we face life’s choices; release our treasures for not only our own sake but for the benefit of those around us, those in need, who have less and ask for little. Here too, we might be willing to let those people go who cannot escape the grip of their own fears, those who drag us down instead of lifting us and others up. In essence we must set ourselves free from the worldly desires to be at the top, first in line, best in show, greatest of all, so that we, like the adventurers in the movies, the heroes and heroines of book and film, might escape and find a different sort of reward in telling the stories of our journey’s true success. For it is only when we take a more humble place in line and allow others to go first that’s we begin to shed the armor of our own fears and desires in lieu of a more ignoble and simple garment of altruism, forgiveness and love which easily slips through that narrow gate into the God’s kingdom.