Jesus mentions the “narrow gate” in today’s Gospel reading. He urges His listeners to “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” So it is good to reflect on the “narrow gate.”
A gate is a doorway, an entry point. Since salvation is the context from which Jesus gave the above response, the gate or doorway is to the Kingdom of God or heaven. Jesus uses the image of a gate or doorway at other times in the Gospels. He refers to Himself as the “sheepgate” in the fourth Gospel, in which He also refers to Himself as the “way” or “road” that leads to life.
So entering the Kingdom of God is walking along the path of life which is Jesus Himself. Walking with Jesus. Being led by Jesus. The door to life is Jesus Himself. Through Him we have life.
Jesus describes the gate as “narrow.” When one thinks of a wide gate the image somehow suggests an easy passage where many can enter with no difficulties. The larger or wider the gate the easier it is to enter. On a city gate, one used for defenses, a wide gate is more difficult to defend. Someone could slip in unnoticed if there was a wide gate.
A narrow gate, on the other hand, would prove more difficult to breach and at the same time more easy to defend. Having a narrow gate will greatly improve the protection of those inside the city, allowing those who belong to enter freely but at the same time keeping out those who would do harm.
Jesus tells his disciples that in order to enter through the narrow gate, they need to be strong. Why? Living the life of a disciple means living as Jesus calls us to live and to follow His example. Strength is needed to walk this path. One particular aspect, one that is fundamental for living the life of a disciple, is carrying the cross. The opening line to this passage reads: “Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem….”
This is the context for the teaching on the “narrow gate.” Jesus is going to Jerusalem to suffer, die and then to rise. He is heading toward the cross. He goes to Jerusalem laying down His life, emptying Himself in love.
Carrying that cross is not easy and indeed it demands great strength. Earlier in the Gospel Jesus reminded anyone who wishes to be a disciple to take up their crosses daily and follow Him. Strength is needed to carry the cross, to walk the path and to enter the gate.
The passage from Hebrews gives us some wisdom in this regard. The author speaks of the “discipline of the Lord.” The discipline might be offered in terms of a rebuke or scourging. This might be the case when one hears the call to repentance. Or it might be when reflecting on the Word of God one realizes his or her sinfulness or an aspect of one’s life that needs forgiveness and a conversion of heart.
In these cases the Word of God penetrates the heart in love, purifying it and drawing the person further into the fullness of life. The process is not an easy one but at times can be painful. The conversion of heart and the dying to self might even be seen as “trials” in the sense that one might be tempted to give up.
Or it might be seen as a test by which we are strengthened in our faith and perseverance. Hebrews encourages the faithful to endure and embrace the “discipline of the Lord” for it leads to “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Jesus urges us “to enter through the narrow gate.” He calls us to strive continually to live the life to which he calls us, a life that entails dying. Dying to self and rising to life in Christ. The process leads to life just as Jesus’ dying on the cross lead to the resurrection. Modeling our lives on Jesus entails carrying His cross. Entering the city through this “narrow gate” leads to safety, to protection, to peace — indeed, to life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.