Jesus was an expert at not answering a question directly and instead shifting the focus to the person asking the question. So, instead of entering into a debate about numbers and the salvation of others, Jesus focused on the questioner himself. He told him what to do: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Strive, Jesus says, using a word that suggests intense energy, the intense energy of an athletic contest, for example. Even more to the point, do it now. The time to enter that narrow gate, the time to get with the program (as one might say it today) is now. We have only a limited amount of time in life. When it is over, we may well wish we had used out time better, used it to focus our priorities on the things that matter most. We may wish we had entered when we had the time, when the door was till open; but by then the door will have been locked, and it will be too late to change our minds.
As the 15th century author of The Imitation of Christ – perhaps the most widely read Christian spiritual book after the Bible – famously expressed it: “do not put off your good deeds until after your death … It is better to provide for yourself ahead of time and to send some good deeds before you … Now the time is very precious … Therefore study so as to live now that at the hour of death you may rejoice rather than fear.”
Isaiah’s prophecy invites us to hear today’s Gospel in its fullness. The fact that the gate is narrow is a challenge, to be sure, but not a menace. We can, of course, come to feel menaced and so give in to discouragement.
Of course, if I think it’s all about me, then the gate is certainly going to appear much too narrow - much too narrow for the likes of me to squeeze through on my own. But, of course, it’s not all about me – or about anyone of us! It’s about God’s great plan for the salvation of the world. It’s about what God is doing – and is going to do. And it’s about my – and your, and his, and her, and our – wanting to be part of it, wanting to focus our lives on what matters most, here and now, day by day.
Homily at Immaculate Conception, Knoxville. August 22, 2010