Strive to Enter the Narrow Door to Salvation~The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI
Reading 1: IS 66:18-21
Responsorial Psalm: PS 117:1, 2
Reading 2: HEB 12:5-7, 11-13
Holy Gospel Reading: Luke 13:22-30
Liturgical colour: Green.
In today’s Gospel we are told that Jesus is travelling from town to town, “teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem,” . During these travels, on one occasion, somebody asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Let us notice his response. He turns the question around: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Jesus won’t let us leave our religious questions at arm’s length. He always brings the matter directly home to us. “You ask about other people. ‘Will they be saved?’ But what about you? Will you be saved? Take heed, repent and believe, lest you be lost, shut out at the end.”
Jesus does it this way, he turns the question around. He does this many times in the gospels. For examples of thism let us think of the lawyer who wanted to justify himself, and so limit the “Love your neighbour ” commandment, and who asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” But Jesus turned the question around with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and he basically ends up asking the lawyer, “Are you being a neighbour to the person in your path, to the one in need?”
Or let us think of the woman at the well. When Jesus starts to get too close with his knowledge of her sinful life, she tries to deflect the conversation into a discussion about at which mountain to worship. But Jesus doesn’t let the conversation stay in deflected. He wants this woman to repent and to realize her thirst to receive the living water.
Or maybe we can think of the people who ask Jesus, “What about those Galileans who were massacred at the temple?” His response? “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus turns the question around, and he redirects the questioners to their own spiritual need.
So also in our Gospel reading for today. Someone asks Jesus, “Will those who are saved be few?” He answers, “What about you? Will you be saved? Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
And today, In answer to this question, Jesus would say the same thing to each of us: “Will you be saved? God’s Word always is meant to be applied personally, to reach deep into our hearts and into our lives, calling each one of us to repentance and to faith.
Jesus is speaking to you, to me, and to all today when he says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” you may well ask, “what’s this business about ‘striving’? I thought salvation was a matter of grace, not works. And what’s this thing about ‘the narrow door’? I thought salvation was open to everyone, open wide, not narrow.”
Well, glad you asked those questions. Let’s deal with them one by one. First, “strive.” “Strive to enter,” Jesus says. How can he say that? Here’s how. Yes, salvation is a matter of grace, God’s free gift in Christ to each and everyone of us. All who are saved are saved purely and exclusively out of the free grace of God in Christ, and not by our own merit in any way whatsoever.
So what does Jesus mean here when he says, “Strive to enter”? I think it’s helpful if we look at this word “strive.” The Greek word here in our text is “agonizomai,” from which we get our English word “agonize.” “Agonizomai” means to strive, to struggle, to exert enormous effort. It’s the word the Greeks used to describe athletic contests for example. And this is the word that’s used here when Jesus says, “Strive,” agonize, “to enter through the narrow door.”
We don’t contribute anything to our salvation by our striving. No, because we have been given this as a free gift. But as we come to Christ and enter through that narrow door, it will involve a struggle. There will be much agonizing along the way.
We all know that living the true Christian life is not easy. There are all these forces which constantly pull against us, to attempt to keep us from entering through that narrow door. We have got Satan, we have the world, and we have our own sinful flesh working against us. It’s like a tag-team wrestling match, and those three are on the other side, tagging in and out, each taking a turn to see if they can defeat us and pin us to the mat. So it is a struggle.
Satan, the world, and the sinful flesh–that’s who we’re agonizing against. Satan will assault us and assail us. He will lure us with temptations. He’ll whisper in our ears lies that say, “God doesn’t love us. Look at what’s happening! Give up.”
Then there’s the world. Listen to the lies of our culture: “There often doesn’t seem to be sin anymore as these things have become commonplace. Everything is seen as OK by the world. We are told by the world that we don’t need to repent. The world questions even if there’s a God out there anyway? As long as you’re a good person, that’s what counts is often the worldly belief.”
And if the issues with Satan and the world aren’t enough, we each have got our own sinful flesh to contend with: “ I know what I want, and I’m going to get it. I won’t listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice telling me otherwise. No, I want to make my own decisions type of thing! And if I’m going into sin, and I know it–well, I’ll just repent later on, I suppose. This way I can keep doing what I want, and I can rationalize it all away.”
So see what we’re up against. It is indeed a struggle, an agonizing, to live as a Christian and to keep the faith. It’s like St. Paul says in Acts 14, “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Being a Christian is not easy. It does call for a constant striving, and so Jesus says here, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
And then there’s this “narrow door”. What does Jesus mean by that? To say that the door is “narrow” is telling us that there’s just one way in. There are not many doors. There are not many roads that lead to the Kingdom of God. There is only one way. It’s through Jesus, through faith in him alone, and in nothing else! Jesus says in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Or again, in John 10, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” The narrow door is Jesus!
This door is narrow, is telling us it’s the only one, but this door is indeed always wide open! Jesus has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Trust in him, and we will be saved! This is all because of that “journey to Jerusalem” Jesus was on. There, in Jerusalem, Jesus’ “arms’ length” extended far and wide when he stretched out his arms on the wood of the cross. Those arms, those arms of Jesus, took in all the sins of the world, including yours and mine. Whatever we have done wrong, our sins against God and mankind, the ways we have disobeyed God and hurt the people around us–all these are paid for, paid in full, by Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, dying sacrificially for us, so that we now are forgiven.
And having done this, Jesus rose from the dead, showing us what is in store for us through faith in him. Eternal life! Jesus’ arms are extended to embrace us and to welcome us as a brother or sister in God’s kingdom. The door is open. Enter in!!
There is a great feast waiting for each of us there. And we will be joining many, reclining at the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end–with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a whole multitude coming from the east and the west, the north and the south. Will you be there, seated with them at the feast of salvation? If we had to answer on the basis of our works or merit, we’d have to say no. But Jesus turns the question around in a good way and answers with a great big yes!!! Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, He wins the victory for us.
“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Today this narrow door is open, and it is open wide!! Enter through Jesus, and we shall be saved
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