Year C – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Narrow Door

(Isa.66:18-21; Heb.12:5-7; 11-13; Lk.13:22-30)

In Luke’s Gospel today, someone asks Jesus, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He wants to know how many people will get to heaven.  But Jesus doesn’t say. 

Why, then, do Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that only 144,000 will be saved?

This number comes from the Book of Revelation which says that 12,000 people will be saved from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.  But it’s a mistake to take these numbers literally, for the very next verse describes ‘a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language…’ (Rev.7:4-9).

The actual number therefore isn’t important, and Jesus doesn’t yet know, anyway.  What is important, however, is how to get to heaven, and that’s how Jesus responds.  He says we must try our best to enter through the narrow door, because one day it will be closed and then it will be too late.

Now, doorways are mentioned more than 270 times in the Bible, so which one is he talking about?  Jesus tells us in John 10:9: ‘I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he’ll be saved’.  He says something similar in John 14:6: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no-one comes to the Father except through me’. 

So Jesus is the narrow doorway that leads to heaven, but what does that mean for us? 

Let’s consider the ancient Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the spot where Jesus was born.  Originally, its front door was huge, but after robbers invaded on horseback they walled it up. Now the front door is small – only 120cm high and 60cm wide (4ft x 2ft).  Today it’s called the Door of Humility and it gives us a sense of Jesus’ narrow door. 

Small children can easily walk through it, but if you’re any taller you have to leave your pride and possessions outside and bend down to enter.  You also can’t just wander in casually; you have to focus on entering that doorway.

As well, you can’t sneak in with a group.  The Israelites used to think that because they descended from Abraham, they all had the right to enter heaven together and some could even get in unnoticed.  But that’s impossible if the doorway is narrow (Lk.3:7-8; 13:26-27). 

Only one person can enter at a time.  

Many people today avoid Jesus’ narrow door, and excuse themselves by saying, ‘I don’t need it.  I’m a good person, I don’t harm anyone.  I’ll be OK’. 

But it’s not enough just to be ‘nice’.  At the end of his Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes the point that the wide gate and the easy road lead to destruction, but only the narrow gate and the hard road actually lead to life (Mt.7:13-14).

At the canonisation of Edith Stein in 1998, Pope St John Paul II said, ‘This woman had to face the challenges of… a radically changing century (and) her experience is an example to us. The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted.  (But) it ignores the narrow gate of discernment and renunciation… Your life is not an endless series of open doors!  Listen to your heart!  Don’t stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things!  And when the time is right, have the courage to decide!  The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.’ [i]

In today’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah tells us that the Lord comes to save everyone, if possible.  And our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we’re all children of God, and the only way to achieve real happiness and fulfillment in life is to live as his sons and daughters by choosing the narrow door that leads to life.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the characters squeeze through a narrow wardrobe to enter the magical kingdom of Narnia. 

Jesus’ narrow doorway is similar.  It might seem squeezy at the start, with its focus on unconditional love and forgiveness and worship, but it opens us up to a beautiful life of peace, love and joy (Ps.18:19). 

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

C.S. Lewis once said that if you haven’t chosen the kingdom of God, it will make no difference in the end what you’ve chosen instead, for what does it matter to a man who’s dying in the desert by which path he misses the only well? [ii]

So, in the end will only a few be saved? 

The answer is no.  Many will be saved.  But sadly, many who thought they would be saved won’t be.