Enter through the Narrow Gate
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Luke 13:24
There is a story from the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition that goes like this. You might have heard of it before. One day a junior monk asked a senior monk about the difference between heaven and hell. The senior monk responded by leading the junior monk to the dining room. Then the senior monk prepared an elaborate sumptuous meal and sat his student down across him. He gave the junior monk a pair of three-foot long chopsticks to use for eating. But the junior monk said, “How can I eat with this? It’s just too long. It cannot reach my mouth.” “Ah,” the Master replied. “That is hell…Want to see heaven?” Then the senior monk used his own three-foot long pair of chopsticks to pick up food from the table, and reached across and fed the young monk. “You do likewise,” he commanded the young monk. The young monk picked up his chopsticks, and reached across the table to feed his Master. The Master, then, said, “That is heaven.” Humble service is the key to heaven.
In the Gospel story from Luke that we just heard, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the place of Jesus’ passion, crucifixion and death. And on his way there, he was asked about who will be saved. His response was that it was not enough to know him, call him Lord, and be with him at the Table. The way of salvation really, truly is narrow, hard, and difficult. “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” That is hard for us to hear. But let’s unpack that. What does it mean that the way of salvation is narrow, difficult and hard? What is this way of salvation? What is salvation? What is this narrow way, this narrow door? Simply, what Jesus says is that the narrow way is to take up one’s cross. To take up one’s cross, to go through the narrow door involves living one’s life not only to benefit me, or the people I love, or my favorite group of people. To take up the cross, to go through the narrow door is to live our life in an unselfish service to God, and for others whom we encounter, including those who are easy for us to ignore or reject, in whatever way God calls us to do that in the particularities of our life. So, it is not enough to be baptized, go to Church on Sunday, and pray and claim to know Jesus. There is more that is required of us. Salvation from our own selfish self is part and parcel of what we call Christian salvation. Christian salvation is also, though not limited only to, salvation from isolated existence. Humble service, then, is the key to heaven. But this is hard, difficult to practice in a culture that goes against the grain of what Jesus teaches, a highly individualistic culture that teaches to look for the number one, “me”. A lot of people would not choose Jesus’ narrow door because they are seduced by a culture of individualism, where sacrifice and service are not deeply held and prized virtues. To this individualistic culture, Jesus counterposes a community of disciples to live the kind of life that Jesus proposes: people as Jesus says who “will come from east to west, from north to south, and will eat in the kingdom of God” because they choose the narrow way, the narrow door, the difficult life of sacrifice and service for others. But while the narrow door is indeed narrow and difficult, it is not impossible to go through it. Jesus offers us the way, and the promise of grace to those who persevere to go through the narrow door. Knock and the door shall be opened. May we enter through Jesus the Narrow Gate.
2011 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a gay Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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