I am often puzzled by the answers Jesus gives to certain questions. In today's Gospel, he certainly could have encouraged the questioner to enter the narrow gate and left it at that but he goes on.
Jesus' answers very often give us a glimpse into the heart of the questioner and perhaps our own hearts. The question is simple enough but the answer is rich and powerful. He tells the questioner, those around him, and us that entrance into Heaven is not easy. This is contrary to so many "gospels" today.
Jesus tells us that we must strive to enter. Strive. It will take effort. Not only will it take effort, but "many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." He even goes so far as to say that even if you have eaten with him, drank with him, and listened to his teachings, it doesn't guarantee you will enter. Why not?
Hanging out with the Lord is not enough. Reading scripture is not enough. Belonging to a certain sect, group, or even religion is not enough. All of these things can be good, can be helpful, but they are not enough. Hanging out with Jesus, reading scripture, and our religion needs to change us! More importantly they need to change us to be more like Him.
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate", says Jesus, "because that's what I did."
So what is the narrow gate? Where is this gate? How do we find it? How can we enter? Today's first reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians gives us the answer. In fact, if you want the answer to those questions and the key to the gate, read the letter to the Ephesians. It's only 6 short chapters but it is extremely powerful. (You can find it here)
Here is some of what Christ teaches us about the narrow gate through St. Paul. If you want to enter through the narrow gate:
"I... beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace...Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another...Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you...Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil...Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (4:1-3, 25, 31, 5:5-16, 5:21)
This message continues with today's first reading. Christ, through Paul, instructs children to obey parents and parents to respect their children. He tells slaves to serve their masters as though the master were Jesus himself and the masters to do likewise to the slaves.
Love is the key to the narrow gate. True love. A love that seeks to put others first. A love that wants what is best for others, even our enemies. A love that is humble, patient, forgiving, and sees all people as though they were Christ Himself.
What does this gate look like? It is not like an ordinary gate, metal or wood on hinges. It's shape is vastly different. You need only look to the Crucifix to find it's shape. To enter, our arms too must be outstretched in love and sacrifice.
Strive to enter the narrow gate. It's not easy but it is possible for with God all things are possible.