Through towns and villages Jesus went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’ He said to them, ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.
‘Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!”
‘Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside. And men from the east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
‘Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.’
This Gospel passage reveals the concern of many people at the time of Jesus as to what was required in order to inherit eternal life and share in the Kingdom of Heaven. A prevailing belief in Jewish society was that only the Jews, as God’s chosen people, would be saved. Luke, writing for a Gentile audience, reveals a very different view on the path to salvation.
When asked “Will only a few be saved?” Jesus affirms that the path to salvation is challenging and reserved only to a few. “Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.” The analogy of the ‘narrow door’ is not a confirmation of the view that only the Jewish people were chosen, but rather it reminds us of the ‘narrow road’ the righteous walk, as opposed to the ‘broad and easy road’ that is walked by the unrighteous. The ‘narrow door’ also implies that the righteous life is a difficult one to live and that only a few will live it faithfully.
“Many will try and not succeed” because these same people will be consumed by hollow ritual and religious observance and yet lack charity, which is the essential heart of holiness. Holiness is not achieved by following a set number of rules or by carrying out a set number of tasks, but consists of loving God above all else and our neighbour as ourselves. Although Jewish people affirm this in the Shema, a prayer said twice-daily, Jesus was aware that for many the words were never translated into action and practice. It is for this reason that the Lord will not recognise many of those seeking to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. To be recognised one needs not just to speak of love but to live a life of love, both of God and neighbour.
Luke challenges the notion of a “chosen people” and in so doing gives hope to his Gentile audience. The Jews saw themselves as the ‘Chosen people’ believing that their path to salvation would take precedence over others. Jesus rebukes this attitude and sternly warns that “there will be weeping and a grinding of teeth” for those who presume automatic entry into the Kingdom of Heaven rather than living a life that warrants such. Rather than the presumptuous sitting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the heavenly banquet, it will be Gentiles (those from the east, west, north and south) who, though late, will share in this banquet.