Someone asked him, “Lord will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:22-30).
When Jesus was asked how many will enter heaven, He responded in a direct way by saying that the path to enter heaven is narrow and not many will choose it. Jesus’s precision with this answer has often startled me. Initially I wasn’t sure why, but I was finally able to put my figure on it…this radical call is in direct conflict with the common notion of Christianity today. The underlying tone of many Christians implies that almost all will go to heaven, it’s just presumed. Unless you are Hitler or Saddam Hussein, you’re pretty much guaranteed to share in the heavenly banquet.
Now, clearly God’s mercy is unfathomable. His patience with us is remarkable and Jesus revealed His merciful heart and desire for all of us to follow the narrow path when he appeared to St. Faustina in 1937. St. Faustina wrote that Jesus told her
“Your misery does not hinder My mercy, the greater the misery of a soul, the greater the right to My mercy; urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all” (1182).
However, the common presumption upon His mercy that is held in our culture which leads us to believe that all will wind up in heaven regardless of the path that we take causes us to be unconcerned with spiritual matters. As long as I believe that there is a God or confess that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and live a relatively good life by being a nice guy, then I’m in….I’m safe…heaven bound. If the eternal life question is taken care of, then why bother with spiritual development. With this assumption we quickly turn our attention towards worldly concerns like being esteemed in our careers or earning a lot of money. However, this passage from Luke contradicts this assumption. Jesus clearly says there is a certain way to live, a radical way, and pleads with each of us to strive towards that way of life.
How to Become the Next Nolan Ryan
Great truths such as this are interwoven into our ordinary lives so that we can all access this Good News. Jesus turns the question on the questioner and points him, personally, towards striving to enter the narrow gate. We can expect this type of answer from any master or teacher who is trying to get us to accomplish something great and difficult. I doubt that a professional pitching coach, for instance, if asked how to become a great pitcher would say, “throw the baseball any way you want and everything will work out fine”. And you probably wouldn’t hear this recommendation, “you know that everyone becomes a great pitcher anyway, just throw it anyway you like”. We know from our experience that becoming great at baseball doesn’t work that way regardless of how much we may want to be an elite pitcher.
On the contrary, a sought after pitching coach will lay out for you the narrow gate that you must go through in order to pitch a baseball at a high level. You will be trained in the proper set up, arm mechanics, hip extension and the like in order to hone this craft, to make it your own and excel at it. Most people won’t go through this meticulous progression even though many wish they could be great pitchers.
The Narrow Gate of Fitness
In the same way, a fitness instructor would point out to you that many people find the path to being fat and out of shape. This path is quite wide and many people walk it. However, the path to fitness is narrow because it involves lots of disciplines and few people go down it. Look around you and this point is easily proven. So if you were to ask your fitness instructor “how many people will get fit”? A good instructor would simply say “don’t worry about it, and get to work”.
Enter Through Your Narrow Gate
Similarly, Jesus doesn’t answer in the abstract and tell us that this percentage or that will make it to heaven, but He instead says to all of us “don’t worry about that, get to work”! To strive to enter the narrow gate posits a struggle, something that is difficult and will require great discipline. The Sacraments, teaching, Scripture, moral discipline, and acts of mercy are all meant to help us in our journey through the narrow gate which leads us to God’s life of radical love. Just as becoming a great pitcher or getting fit requires us to walk a path that is not much traveled, Jesus, with the help of His grace, ceaselessly desires for each of us to travel that narrow path towards freedom and love.
Faustina and Consolata (1937)