“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus says to his disciples. The image Jesus uses is a gate. The gate leads to eternal life so it is well worth the effort to get through the gate. In the fourth Gospel Jesus refers to himself as the gate through which the sheep enter the pasture (John 10:7) – the pasture being a symbol of eternal life where the Good Shepherd leads us (cf. Psalm 23; John 10:11-18). Jesus says the gate is “narrow.” In other words the gate is not wide and easy to enter.
Entering through this gate requires something of us. We have to navigate our lives carefully and intentionally to pass through. In this regard, one might think of a gate that a ship has to pass through. If it is a tight fit the captain of the ship will have to coordinate all the efforts of the crew so that the ship can be properly aligned to sail through. If all the members of the crew are taking their responsibilities seriously and doing the work that needs to be done, then the ship can sail through pretty readily; if not, a dangerous situation arises and a crash could occur.
One might think also of a gate through which we enter a yard or a property. If a person is walking through and is loaded with bags and parcels and the gate is tight, they might have to leave some of these things behind so as to be able to enter.
Jesus invites us to consider our lives and how we are living, making decisions and acting. Are there things that we need to let go? Are we taking our responsibilities as his disciples to heart? Do we fulfill our duties as His disciples? The gate is narrow but he gives us the way through; he is the way through. He invites us to follow. He invites everyone to follow.
The context in which Jesus speaks about the “narrow gate” leads us to recognize and acknowledge that everyone – all the nations – are invited to enter the Kingdom of God through the “narrow gate.” Jesus says: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at the table in the Kingdom of God.” The Gospel message and the life it offers is not just for Jesus’ Jewish disciples it is for everyone. All enter through the one “narrow gate.” It is the same gate for all. It remains narrow but all are invited to follow.
Jesus is the way to the Father; hence the way to eternal life. In and through Jesus all nations will come to know the Father and His love. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Isaian prophecy through which the Lord says: “I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.”
The message continues noting that the Lord will send “fugitives” to the nations who will “proclaim my glory among the nations.” With the acceptance of this message many “brothers and sisters from all the nations” will be brought as an offering to the Lord.
The responsorial for Sunday’s liturgy is “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.” When we say or chant these words we hear the call to proclaim. In following Jesus, as his disciples, we have the responsibility and duty to continue his proclamation, to proclaim the glory of God as seen in Christ Jesus. The proclamation is an invitation to follow, to follow the Lord to life, to enter the “narrow gate.”
Jesus comes from the Father so that all might have life through him. Recall the words: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus entrusts the mission to his Church and her members. Through her the invitation to enter the “narrow gate” continues. Through her members the invitation is spread.
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, expresses it this way: “For there is not distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news’” (Romans 10:12-15).
Jesus invites us to life by entering the “narrow gate.” He is that gate which leads to life. At the same time, Jesus expects us to invite others, indeed all peoples, to the same gate, to the same life. Before we can invite others to enter we ourselves must first enter.
Finding life in Christ and living our lives in His love builds up the desire in us for all to share in this life of love — in other words to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.