Jesus, our narrow gate back home

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle-C, 21 August 2022
Isaiah 66:18-21 ><}}}*> Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 ><}}}*> Luke 13:22-30
Photo by author, the little entrance door to the Basilica of Nativity in Bethlehem, May 2019.

Our gospel this Sunday brought me back to my sweet memories of the three pilgrimages I have made to the Holy Land, especially the small entrance door to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

According to stories, pilgrims used to bring inside the big church their camels and horses to celebrate Masses and pray. Naturally, the animals would make the church stink and dirty but the monks were so kind they did not want to hurt the feelings of pilgrims if they were told to leave their animals outside; so, they devised a clever solution by making the entrance door so small and so low to keep the pilgrims’ animals outside that even people have to bow or bend to enter the church.

This eventually gave the literal and figurative meanings of bending low, of being humble to meet Jesus at his birthplace, and in daily life!

Photo by author, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem, May 2017.

Over in Jerusalem, there is the bigger Church of the Holy Sepulcher that houses the site of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. There are no little doors and entrances except the narrow passageways inside going up to the Calvary where you could touch and venerate the very site of the Crucifixion.

Remember when Jesus promised the “good thief” on Good Friday that “today you shall be with me in paradise”?

That means the gate to heaven is not up there but right here on earth which is so narrow which we enter whenever we are with Jesus suffering and dying to ourselves.

In all those three occasions I went to the Holy Land, first as a pilgrim in 2005 and then as chaplain of pilgrims in 2017 and 2019, I have learned to brave the huge crowds and be patient to wait for my turn to kiss those holy sites as a sign of veneration. I just told myself and the pilgrims with me that we did not go that far to back out from the crowd and sweat and everything.

Whenever friends ask me for the best time to go to the Holy Land amid the threats of wars and violence, I just tell them that the best time is when they are ready, reminding them that ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, that region has always been a major trouble spot in the world. Remember, no matter how large are the crowds, so small are the gates, how tiring are the days, God’s grace is lavishly bestowed upon everyone who makes the efforts to pray and make that pilgrimage at the birthplace of our faith.

It is never a question of how many can be accommodated to the Holy Land – or heaven for that matter – but, it is more of the question of how willing is everyone to strive and persevere to walk on the very same grounds Jesus and his apostles and those ahead of them walked on.

Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Luke 13:22-24
Photo by author, altar of the Church of the Crucifixion; at the back is the encased site of the Crucifixion, May 2017.

See how Jesus redirected that man’s attention to focusing more on discipleship, telling him to “strive to enter through the narrow gate”. It is most probable that man was a disciple who has been following Jesus whom he called “Lord”. He must have been following Jesus for sometime.

Very often, what happens in our relationships 
can happen in our discipleship 
when you thought you were so in love 
when in fact it was just an infatuation. 

And that is sometimes the problem with us disciples of Jesus: we get focused with the novelties and trivia of faith, with devotions and practices that we forget the more important and essential of living out our discipleship in Jesus! Instead of wondering about how many will be saved, Jesus is telling us this Sunday to just keep striving to be like him, a true disciple who perseveres in being good, in being more loving and kind, more merciful and forgiving like him.

Very often, what happens in our relationships can happen in our discipleship when you thought you were so in love when in fact it was just an infatuation. Faith and discipleship are just skin-deep, more of an attraction and feeling like infatuation when our concerns are just the mere rites and rituals and other religious fascinations; true discipleship is like true love that is more about commitment, of being faithful and true in works not just words.

The man must be in his early stage of discipleship where we find a tinge of pride and entitlement as if he must have felt only a few of them would be saved. Nah! It is a classic case of “humility with a hook”.

Photo by author, altar of the Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo city, 12 August 2022.

Take off all those pretensions, forget all those trivia and nitty-gritty things of our faith; like the Nike commercial, “just do it” whatever is right and good in the name of Jesus. Keep in mind that no one has ever become a saint because of what they knew, but because of how their lives were conformed with Jesus Christ.

The first reading reminds us of how God had envisioned since the beginning to come to gather all nations in his name (Is. 66:18) that was fulfilled in Christ’s coming.

Recall how when before Jesus identified himself as the “good shepherd”, he first called himself as the “gate” through whom all sheep pass through so that whoever enters through him will be saved and whoever does not go through him is a thief (Jn. 10:7-11). These images of Jesus as the gate and good shepherd from the fourth gospel directly match these teachings today found in Luke’s gospel.

Keep in mind that 
no one has ever become a saint because of what they knew, 
but because of how their lives were conformed with Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, in the light of the beautiful passage from the Letter to the Hebrews this Sunday, we are assured of inclusion into heaven because we all belong to God who is our Father. What the author of the letter meant in likening God to a father who disciplines his son because of love is precisely the very intimate relationship God has with us like a father to his children. We all belong to God our Father and in the end, we shall all come home to him in heaven. Everyone. Unless you do not want to come.

Photo by author, Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo city, 12 August 2022.

The grace of this Sunday is the assurance anew given to us by Jesus that we rejoice not because of the powers nor knowledge we have as disciples but “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk.10:20, 14th Sunday, 03 July 2022).

Let no doubts dishearten you of not making it to heaven; we are all saved by Jesus, assured of a “passport” to enter heaven. Let us all work for that “visa” into heaven by being true to our name as disciples of Jesus who strive to enter through the narrow gate who is Christ himself.

Entering Jesus our narrow gate back home in heaven means being one in him and with him in loving service to others, in being kind and merciful, and most of all, of having him alone as our wealth and treasure. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s