In the Gospel last week Jesus announced, “I have come to set the earth on fire.” He was referring to the global purification that was, in common Jewish belief, to accompany the
coming of the Messiah. This week the disciples follow up on his statement by asking, “Lord,
will only a few people be saved?” In the Jewish way of thinking, Jews would be saved from the fire of the purification because of their special place with God and their fidelity to the covenant. The Gentiles would not find a place in the Kingdom.
Jesus challenged this way of thinking. Jews, as well as Christians, sometimes coast on automatic and depend on their religious fellowship to carry us along the spiritual road. But eventually each one of us has to negotiate “the narrow gate” for ourselves. Jesus told his disciples that being a member of the chosen people wasn’t enough to get them into the Kingdom. “The gate to the Kingdom is narrow, and the per- son who enters it needs to be strong.” Entrance into the Kingdom is not guaranteed to
anyone. It’s a rough road to the Kingdom. The disciples will better understand how difficult it is after the resurrection. The narrow gate to the Kingdom may lead to Gethsemane. The narrow gate may lead to the cross.
Many things can block the way to the Kingdom. Sometimes we focus all our energy on being
“happy,” to have a life with no worries, no illness, no anxiety. This is perhaps one of the most common blocks to the narrow gate. Jesus didn’t promise this kind of “happiness” to any of us. Remember, the rich young man who turned away from Jesus’ invitation to follow him because he wasn’t strong enough to separate himself from his possessions. But there’s more involved than merely letting go of our at- traction to possessions. Entering the narrow gate involves dying to self.
As Jesus himself modeled for us, dying to self doesn’t need to involve penance or mortification. St. Paul explains dying to self in this way. Speaking of Jesus, he wrote, “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are. He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7) Dying to self means pouring one’s self out for others. Or, as Jesus put it, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
We walk the path to the narrow gate every day of our lives. Each day affords us opportunities to empty ourselves for others. It’s easy for us to give up smoking or drinking, or chocolate or carbs. Divest- ing ourselves of our self-centeredness, our ego, is a difficult challenge. To enter the narrow gate, we might even have to sweat blood.