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.”Luke 13:22-30 (Lectionary)
Strive to Enter
Questions reveal the questioner. With idle curiosity, Jesus’ interlocutor asked if only a few are being saved. Dispelling the common assumption that God’s kingdom belonged to the Jews by right, Jesus simply advised, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
Agōnizesthe (“strive,” “struggle,” “agonize”), for the battle against self-will is now, while the door is open. When the master of the house locks the door, sham relationships will come to light. Though many dined with the Lord and heard him teach, they cut him off in their hearts. Hereditary origin guarantees nothing: “I do not know where you are from.” Whether Jew or Gentile, only faithful children of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
In contrast to the one who asked if few are being saved, Abraham interceded with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”1 Appealing to God’s mercy, Abraham pleaded that the cities be spared for the sake of the righteous. In question after question, Abraham bargained with God for the sake of fifty, forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, and ten righteous people. Not a shred of curiosity tempted Abraham to inquire how many will be saved; indeed, he hoped to save all. Like the Lord, Abraham took “no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” but desired “that the wicked turn from his way and live.”2
The Heavenly Banquet
Jesus’ vivid image of Gentiles streaming from every direction to the heavenly banquet jolted his listeners. Perfecting the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross in obedience to his Father.
Abraham entered through the narrow gate
Of obedience to God, now to celebrate.
1 Genesis 18:23.
2 Ezekiel 33:11 (RSV).