The reading from Hebrews is a word of encouragement during difficult times. In particular it is referring to the times when we find it hard to follow the discipline that comes with being a follower of Jesus. This passage compliments well the message of the Gospel in which Jesus calls his followers to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” It might be difficult, but if we remain strong we will succeed. And those who enter through the narrow gate are the ones who the Lord will recognize. If we look at our Christian Faith as something that is easy to live, and minimize the call of the Gospel in such a way so as to maximize my personal wants and desires and all the baggage that comes with these, we are passing through a wide gate. A gate in which we are able to carry the excess baggage of inattentiveness to God, fleeting moments of happiness, and sin. We might make it through the wide gate, but all of that baggage will make us unrecognizable to the Lord.
In Jesus’ day the narrow gate was not only narrow, it was also a low gate. It was the way one entered the city after the main gates were locked at sundown, and during times of alert for enemies. One had to enter with head down and empty handed, trusting that no one was waiting on the inside to club them on the head, to injure them, or rob them. In order to enter the narrow gate one had to trust as well as to be traveling light. This is the image Jesus gives with regards to entering the kingdom. His message is that we are to humble ourselves by letting go of the unnecessary things in life, and to approach the kingdom with humility. It is a call for us to trust that God does love us and will provide what we truly need. We will stand before the Lord with nothing but ourselves, no possessions, no pretensions, no pride; only in simple humility. The Lord will recognize us for who we are, not what we possess. He will welcome us as a brother or sister.
I have shared this before, but it is worth repeating. At the funeral of Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg, known as the last of the Habsburg Crown Princes. When the funeral procession reached the church in Vienna the Court Herald knocked on the door, a friar then asked “who seeks to enter?” The Herald responded with the name and a long list of titles of the deceased Prince. The friar responded “we don’t know him.” The herald knocked a second time and asked by the friar “who seeks to enter.” He repeated the name with all the titles. The friar gave the same response, “we don’t know him.” The herald knocked a third time, but this time when asked “who seeks to enter?” the Herald responded; “a sinful, mortal human being.” The doors were opened and they brought the casket into the church.
When it comes to standing before the Lord we are called to put aside pride in titles, accomplishments and possessions and focus more on the presence of God in our lives. May we begin to let go of these things that we deem as important, but more often they are nice, but not necessary. What is necessary is to adjust our lives so that we can walk through the narrow gate with confidence in God, and humility in receiving his mercy. The way to the narrow gate may be difficult, but it is the way to Christ.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Images: The Narrow and Wide Gates, circa 1630