Here is a little bit of ancient history, every town and city in the Near East in ancient times was normally encircled by ramparts and defended by towers and fortified gates. Reports describing the large, fortified cities of the Canaanites struck fear into the Israelites. The walls of a city were usually of large dimensions, anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five feet thick; and often there were two or even three of them. Some of them were well over twenty-five feet in height. They were made of rough or cut stone, with the upper courses made of brick, or even wood. Walls were rendered less assailable by having a trench dug around them.
These city gates were all about security. For obvious reasons they did not want everyone to come into the city. Since gates were an obvious point of weakness, most towns had no more than one or two main gates for the primary entrance and exit during the day. Everything would be transported through this gate, so it was naturally big and wide open. In addition, there were other side gates for entry and exit afterhours. These were the gates that Jesus is referring to in the Gospel.
Because of the nature of their use, they were smaller in size. They were made so narrow that a person could not enter on horseback. As a matter of fact, they were too narrow for someone to pass through with much of anything. The brave and valiant warrior had to leave his armor, weapons, spoils behind.
In that context listen to that verse again; “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
From my description, there was nothing especially difficult in passing through this secondary portal other than the fact that you had to leave your horse and all of your fancy stuff behind. Was that the difficulty that Jesus was referring to?
A good friend loves to say that God loves everyone, and wants everyone to enter the gates of heaven, but … he is not going to drag anyone kicking and screaming into heaven.
We are called to strive to enter through the narrow gate. We are challenged to enter as we are, simple and humbled into the presence of God.
In Genesis God reminds Adam and Eve, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread Until you return to the ground, For from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” As dust there is very little extra that we can hold on to.
Remember in Matthew when the young man asks Jesus what he should do. Jesus says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you; it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Entering the Kingdom of God is not as easy as one might think. Imagine the how terrible if we are found standing “outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.”
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.
The alleluia verse reminds us that, “God has called us through the Gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s it. That is all that we need to pass through the narrow gate, because nothing else will fit.
And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
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.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.’
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.”
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