In today’s gospel a question is put to Jesus. It is not the first time that we find in the gospel of Luke someone asking Jesus. As we saw in other occasions, Jesus usually does not answer directly these questions, simply because they are put in the wrong way. Look at the question in today’s passage: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” It is a totally abstract question; we would say, a purely academic question, exclusively aroused by curiosity. What will change in my life, when I have known if those saved are many or few? Definitely nothing! That is why Jesus never answers this kind of questions. He has not come into the world to take part in academic disputes; he has come to bring salvation. So, what is important is not to know how many people will be saved, but to be concerned about one’s own salvation. Therefore, he answers: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Here is what really matters: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” The only thing you should be concerned for is to get salvation for yourself. And, apparently, it is not so easy.
Let us stop for a while to reflect upon these words of Jesus. First of all, let us consider the verb he uses: “strive” (contendite). It seems that salvation depends on us. What! We have always said that salvation is a gift of God; it does not depend on our merits; and now Jesus says, “Strive!” There is no contradiction: salvation simultaneously depends on God and on us; it is a gift, but a gift that we have to gain with our efforts. Saint Paul says in the letter to the Philippians: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work” (2:12-13).
Why does salvation require an effort of us? Because the gate to salvation is narrow. We cannot delude ourselves, thinking that it is possible to reach Paradise by highway; in the parallel passage of Matthew, Jesus says that the road that leads to life is constricted; like a rough path, requiring great effort, tenacity and watchfulness. In plain terms, this means that, for us to be saved, we cannot rely on our religious affiliation:“I am Christian; I was baptized; I belong to the Catholic Church.” It is not enough; we have to live—or, at least, to strive to live—according to our membership. Have you heard what Jesus replies to those who say: “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets”? Jesus says to them: “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!”
Another problem, which contributes to make more difficult the attainment of salvation, is that the gate, besides being narrow, will be locked soon. So, we cannot delay, thinking that, whatever time we arrive, it is enough to knock, to have the door opened. Even in this case we will hear the same reply: “I do not know where you are from.”
The second reading is about another element, which adds further difficulty to the achievement of salvation: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord … Endure your trials as ‘discipline’.” It is an invitation to accept the “cross” in our life. The letter to the Hebrews explains also the reason of that: “Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
I think you can easily realize how these teachings are far from the mentality spread among today’s people, even inside the Catholic Church: God is good; God is merciful; everybody will be saved. Practically, a “low-cost” salvation. But that is not the real gospel; it is just a caricature of it. We have heard what the real gospel says: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”