August 21, 2022; Luke 13: 22-30; 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s gospel Jesus says that if we want life we must enter through the narrow gate. What does he mean by this? I would suggest that Jesus is pointing to a characteristic of life itself, that in life there are a succession of passages or gates through which we must pass if we want to live life completely and joyfully.
There are many passages in life, and we can usually identify them with the word, “first”: our first step as a baby, our first day at school, or at high school, or in college, our first job, the first day we needed to use a walker, our first love, our first child, the first day after all the children left home, the first week of retirement, the first month of being a widow. These passages are often difficult, narrow, but they are all important because unless we pass through them life cannot continue. Now, if we stop for a moment, most of us here this morning could identify a passage we are working through in or lives today. This makes the words of Jesus relevant because he wants to show us how to make it through the narrow gates of life.
What Jesus says today at the end of the gospel is important. He says, “Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Most of us want to be first. Nobody wants to be last. So we strive to be first and we worry about being last. But Jesus takes these terms and purposely inverts them to tell us trying and worrying are not particularly helpful to negotiate the passages of life. When we must pass through the narrow gate what is most important is trust.
We do not become a popular person in school by trying to be a popular person or by worrying that we are unpopular. We move forward trusting that we are a good person and then waiting for relationships to develop. We do not become a good parent by striving to be the world’s best parent, but by being who we are, loving our child, and trusting that all that we need will in time fall into place. We do not cope with the loss of a spouse by trying to be happy. Instead, we trust that if we live each day honestly and well, life will continue.
We do not make it through the passages of life by trying, worrying, or wondering whether we are first or last. We make it by trusting that life itself has a flow and that we will never need to negotiate a passages of life alone. Because the message of the gospel assures us that whenever we take up one of life’s passages, God is at our side—pushing with us through the narrow gate.