Through towns and villages Jesus went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’ He said to them, ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.
‘Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men !”
‘Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside. And men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
‘Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.’
This is the Jesus we don’t like to hear from too often; the Jesus who seems to go back on everything that he has promised; forgiveness, worthiness, rooms in the Father’s mansion. Well,yes, but only if you can get through the narrow door. God wills that all will be saved; but there seems to be lots of exceptions all of a sudden and it’s a bit of a shock to the system.
A difficult Gospel to unwind until I thought about the time of year that we are in. Exam results! It’s during the month of August that parents and young people discover what the waiting game is all about. The dates that seemed so far off at the end of the school year; suddenly are looming large. The confidence that you’d done enough to pass; suddenly is fading into anxious memories of lessons missed and questions left unanswered. The decisions made in the surety of success are now overwhelmed with ‘what if’s’.
Parents remembering the hope and ambitions that they had for their children stay awake at night considering strategies and regretting every night they let them go out with their mates or watch ‘Big Brother’. The questions come one after the other; too lenient, too ambitious, not ambitious enough?
And I take no pleasure in this – being one of those parents with one of those young people.
Eventually though, there comes a point for parents when you cannot do any more for your child; and it may not be exams; it may be friendships; money issues; job applications; sports ambitions. Eventually you have to come down of the side of that strange emotion ‘tough love’. Knowing that you have done all you can – it is now ‘up to them’. And whatever happens next is in that knowledge; it is love – and, especially when the outcome may not be what they want - it is tough.
Otherwise, you are left being the parent of a adult ‘baby’, wanting the world and having no idea how to get it; wasting their lives and blaming it on everyone except themselves.
The promise of salvation is a wonderful gift; the thought of all those rules we never needed to follow; all those rooms – surely one with our name on; a God who has promised us so much even though we are not worthy. Having sat and listened to the Good News; it would be simple to live in expectation of Heaven.
But could it really be that easy? Should it be that easy? After all that God has offered us would it not seem reasonable that we should be taking a bit of responsibility.
Jesus has spent most of Luke’s Gospel teaching us how to be disciples; we have the theory; we have sat and listened; we have been there whilst he was speaking. Perhaps we have not realised that there will be a ‘test’. That the test is the day to day living of our life.
The theory is not the answer; it simply gives us the method; we have to put words into practice. To get up from our place at the Master’s feet and walk the walk. It’s like piling the shelves up with self-help guides to health, happiness and love and never trying any of it because the time is not right; like buying a membership to a gym and promising ourselves to go ‘tomorrow’. The things that belong to ‘tomorrow’ are the very things that will weigh us down; distract us and stop us from being able to enter by the narrow door.
If we wish to cross the threshold we need something more than ‘we know how to do it-we just haven’t ever got round to it’.
Jesus appears to have had his moments as an unruly child and a stroppy teenager, and been on the receiving end of obviously loving but firm parenting, and has the measure of most of humanity. We like the Good News; we like the promise it offers and we like the idea of it being handed to us on a plate.
Nothing worth having is that easy. At least the warning has been given. The teacher, having given his lesson, warns us that we also have to do the homework, the revision and the practical.
Warnings we are used to in all other aspects of learning and they are given with love; Jesus paints the blackest of pictures and gives the darkest of threats because of ‘tough love’ –it’s the last place he wants us to be and the very last thing he wants to hear is weeping and grinding of teeth – but at the end of the day – it is up to us.