Most Christians have heard Jesus speak of “The Narrow Gate”, or “The Narrow Door” at sometime in their lives. Jesus is a master at language and using metaphor (as we’d expect; He IS God, after all!). But what does Jesus mean by when He speaks of the “Narrow Door” or the “Narrow Gate”? And perhaps more important, what does all this talk about the “Narrow Gate or Door” mean to me?
As we’d expect with the only Son of God who is the “Truth” (John 14:6), Jesus is giving us the “straight scoop”. Jesus is a straight talker, who says what He means…and means what He says. Jesus is a straight talker, someone who speaks honestly, truthfully and sometimes painfully, when needed.
“The Narrow Gate” is painful talk, if we are prepared to hear it.
People are prone to “confirmation bias”, a desire to only hear or acknowledge those things that confirm our biases. Some want to think of Jesus as “All Merciful” and ignore the “Truth” part of Jesus. They desire a Jesus who has no standards, makes no demands, makes no judgment, accepts all behavior. The Narrow Gate or Door is painful talk and is often ignored. But we must accept all of what Jesus says and teaches and not make Jesus fit our “biases”; for when we do so, we put our souls at risk. Painful indeed.
Here are a couple of passages in which Jesus speaks of “The Narrow Door”. First, Luke 13:30:
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ 28 There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. 29 And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Now Jesus’ reference to “The Narrow Gate” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-14):
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Here are some key phrases and observations about the passages:
- Jesus is speaking in the context of “who will be saved”; He is talking about Salvation; our personal salvation.
- “Strive” is a powerful word, a “hard work” word which means to “struggle or fight vigorously”. Evidently, our salvation is “hard work”.
- “Many…will seek to enter and not be able.”
- Jesus (the householder), will say to you (Jesus is getting personal, using the word “you”. Question: Do you think Jesus means you?) who knock on the door “I do not know where you come from.”
- This is straight talk about the fact that many who claim to be Christian will not be saved. Salvation depends on God’s Grace but also on our cooperation and obedience (Eph 2:8-10; Phil 2:12-13). It’s not enough to be a “Casual Catholic”, for that simply won’t cut it.
- Jesus is saying that being a disciple is hard work. We must ask ourselves, “Am I really striving to know Jesus Christ?” “Am I living a life of prayer, a life of repentance and frequent engagement in the sacraments?”
- Jesus is emphasizing the word “know”; “I do not know where you come from” (He repeats this word two times). “Knowing” here refers to an intimate knowing, a real knowing. Jesus is not talking about casual acquaintances, or people who show up occasionally to hang out with Him. Jesus is saying that those who really know Him, who are close personal friends, will be allowed to enter into the Narrow Door.
- Many will make excuses, trying to make nice with Jesus at the Judgment: “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” Is Jesus speaking of those who attend Mass (“ate and drank in you presence” sounds like a the Eucharist; “teaching” sounds the Liturgy of the Word) in reluctance or for selfish reasons, rarely seeking Jesus for His sake only?
- Jesus is talking damnation; the damned will experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth”; many don’t want to think there is any judgment or consequences. But Jesus is talking damnation here. See also Matt 8:12.
- The Good News is that many will will enter (from the north, south, east and west) into the banquet with Christ in the Kingdom of God. Will you be with Him?
Jesus offers straight talk about the Narrow Gate, painful talk. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is painful talk. He is warning us to repent, to turn our lives to Him, to know Him, really know Him, to strive to enter through the Narrow Gate.
We won’t be able to say we weren’t warned.