Enter by the narrow door

“Try your best to enter by the narrow door.”

 

Today we are pleased to welcome Father Simon Holden of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield. I have known him for more than 40 years. To quote Gilbert: “we were boys together. At least, I was”.

The Community of the Resurrection has often been referred to as the Mirfield Fathers. From early in their history they undertook missions which generally took the form of daily teaching sessions for a week which educated and challenged people about the faith. An anecdote is told about such a mission, although over the years it has been ascribed to different missioners. The story goes that the preacher was doing a ‘hellfire and damnation’ purple passage about ‘grinding and gnashing of teeth’, when an old woman, who had not a tooth in her head, stood up. “So what will happen to me?” she asked. In a moment of inspiration the preacher replied, “Teeth will be provided!”

Today, in St.Luke’s Gospel we heard that those who assume they have some right to an exclusive place in the kingdom of God are in for a nasty shock (hence all that ‘grinding and gnashing’). But the invitation goes out to all the nations and excludes no one. The only people who may miss out are the arrogant or complacent.

Jesus is asked, “Will there be only a few saved?” The reply that he gives is unnerving: many will try but not all will be successful. Jesus also goes on to say that people from all over the world, from many nations, will come and there will be places for them. In other words, there are places in the kingdom of God for the many, not the few. Once again the ways of God are frequently at odds with our own.

The trap that the disciples of Jesus’ time might have fallen into is that in believing that they have a special relationship with Jesus, they assume that this must mean that their place in the kingdom is guaranteed. After all, they eat and drink with him and listen to him talking. And from that position, it becomes easy to believe that “outsiders” will be excluded, or have a lesser place. I wonder if we tend to think that way too?

Jesus tells the disciples to try their best to enter by “the narrow door”. In the Greek of the New Testament, the word used for “try your best” actually means “to wrestle”. This is so much stronger than the English ‘try’. It involves struggle and effort. The question for each of us is: what do we need to wrestle with?

Ultimately, today’s gospel is not about exclusion but the exact opposite. There is space in the kingdom for many, and that includes those we struggle to accept. Our wrestling will be in our struggle to reach out to those we see as unlovable: the outcast, the drug addict, even the paedophile or those who dispatch weapons of chemical warfare. We are not asked to condone or accept the behaviour of those who hurt or abuse us or others; but we are asked to be the face of Christ to them.

This is not easy; and that is why Jesus calls us to wrestle with it, wrestle with our conscience, with our prejudices, with our own arrogance and self-righteousness. When we cannot do this, we may find ourselves facing His closed door.

Today, we receive the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the very body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We do so, so that we may be Christ’s body in our world when we leave this place. As we receive the sacrament, we are called to act as Christ would act in our world.

Being a Baptised Christian carries the responsibility to be a missionary. We should not leave this to others but take it seriously.

Being the face of Christ to those we find most difficult to like or love is the narrow door through which all of us are being invited to pass. It may well mean moving away from the idea that our place in the kingdom of God is assured by simply turning up at Mass each Sunday, and the consequent idea that others whom we see as outsiders are excluded from God’s kingdom and God’s love. There are plenty of people in our own neighbourhood, in our own community, who need us to be the face of Christ for them. Let us open our eyes and our hearts to them, and respond by reflecting the love that Our Lord has lavished upon us.