The Narrow Door

Ordinary 21C

Luke 13: 22 30

Introduction

The incident occurring in our appointed text this week begins a new series of events on the last journeys towards Jerusalem. We see our Lord offering his unique message for the last time in the villages he visits. We also see him striving to make every effort to reach every possible place where there may be someone who will listen. The rejection he often receives seems irrelevant. It is his total commitment to reach the spiritually hungry which shines out — and thus reveals him as our role model in our efforts to be his disciples.

Some Notes On Our Texts

Verse 22

"Through towns and villages he went, teaching making his way to Jerusalem."

Verse 23

Someone said to him, "Sir, will there be only a few saved?"

"Someone said….." — obviously it doesn't matter who. Something has sparked off this enquiry about a familiar Old Testament theme about "the remnant."

This, in our Lord's mind, is a very speculative, academic consideration. He brushes it aside and focuses his listeners on a much more practical approach: not how many, but who!

Verse 24

Jesus tells the group: "Try your best to enter by the narrow door."

His words meant:

  • Make every effort
  • Struggle and strive
  • Exert concentrated strength
  • Strain every nerve

All of this, to ensure you get through the door — which by the way is not easy to pass through!

His listeners were well aware of his teaching style and understood him to mean something like

"Don't waste your time or mine on useless arguments about how many will or will not be saved. Get on with making sure by hard work that you are safe yourself."

The language used to record our Lord's teaching implies that it will take every effort of body and soul to achieve this. That is the first condition he lays down.

Verse 25

Jesus goes on to give the second condition of those who will be saved: those who take action now! And, in an apparent hardline he explains why some miss out. They are too late. "Once the door has been closed, don't expect to get in."

Verses 26 and 27

People will claim the right to be accepted as "late entries", explains Jesus, on the basis that the master knows them and has been close to them. But our Lord is quite decisive; they never really sought to be in an intimate personal relationship. So they can go away! They made their choice long ago. Now they have to live with it. His religon is not for the weak and effeminate!

Verse 28

Our account now takes a new turn. To his two conditions for gaining entry via the only door, Jesus adds a warning using dramatic Old Testament imagery.

"What frustration they will experience when they see the great Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Prophets of Israel, all present at the great banquet — and they have neglected to respond to the invitation when it was given and make their way to the great hall."

Verses 29 and 30

Jesus then goes on to close the short lesson, warning that the places left empty at the banquet will be taken by "rank outsiders" from East, West, North and South.

It is important to keep the imagery intact. Out Lord is not talking of displacing any faithful person among his own people. He is referring to those who saw themselves as some sort of impregnable, spiritual elite who made a habit of parading their exclusive pedigree as a guarantee of preferential treatment. Jesus was always quick to dash such delusions of privilege and grandeur.

He ends this session with a typically brief pithy saying which has continued to echo down the ages:

"There are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last."

Conclusion

It seems very human that when people have every opportunity to equip themselves for an important event, they often neglect the chance, taking it for granted they will always be able to take it up when it suits them. Out Lord has made his point very clearly:

  • Take your spiritual life very seriously and make every effort to enter into full life through the door I provide.
  • Do it now! Be quick and decisive. Do not procrastinate and get distracted with confusing situations life serves up to you.

Jesus had laid down the groundwork for the Church to be always on guard to ensure the people are listening to him (and not some self appointed prophet) and making every effort to respond with fervour and alacrity! Unless his followers take him at his word, they are likely to end up rejecting him just as casually as some of his own people did.

A Biblical Meditation on "Alacrity". A Jewish Source

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