He 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 door, 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. –Luke 13:22-30
Every time I hear today’s gospel, the thought of Jesus rejecting me makes my heart tremble. So often I presume of God accepts me because I know his love for us is great. He desires for us to enter into communion with him, yet here he reminds us that the path to eternal life with him is narrow, and entry is slim. I shudder at the thought of seeing Jesus face to face, and hearing that he does not know me and that I better depart from him. As much as I wish to be united with him, how do I know if am I truly on the right path?
It is fitting that our second reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13) precedes this ominous passage from the Gospel of Luke. The reading begins with Saint Paul calling our attention to an exhortation given to children. The passage he cites is from Proverbs and teaches children the importance of willingly receiving discipline from their parents, and enduring times of difficulty so as to receive the “fruit of righteousness” that comes with discipline and training. The passage ends by calling the faithful to “strengthen” their “drooping hands” and “weak knees,” and “make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”
When I hear this passage I flash back to all the times I found myself bubbling with anger and frustration at my parents when they enforced rules upon me that I didn’t agree with or want to follow. From the time I was a small child all the way into adulthood, I was confronted with their firm (but loving) guidance which steered me away from things I desired because they were leading me down an unnecessary, distracted, or even destructive path. This is the job of every parent: to guide and direct their children, leading them towards the good, and steering them away from the bad. It is clear to me now that I am an adult that their guidance along the way helped shape and form me into the person I am today. Had I not relied on their help and advice, I would have definitely ended up worse for wear.
It is significant that both Jesus and Saint Paul often point us towards a childlike obedience, not complete and total self-reliance. The biggest sin that has overcome man since the beginning of time is the sin of pride. It is truly a challenge for man to hand over the reins to someone other than himself because he is a free being who can order his will according to his own volition. It is easy to submit to God when we are set on cruise control and all is well. But God’s love is not merely friendly and approachable. It is also parental. As we grow older and gain more know-how for the ways of the world and taste for the things that please us it becomes harder and harder to lay down our lives for the Lord and willingly submit all that we perceive to be good for our own lives in return for all he has planned for our lives. We cannot always accept when he tells us that some things are not good for us, and we murmur against him when he allows us to take a tumble for our own good and for the sake of transformation. We fight our Lord in an effort to hold tight to our stubborn ways, and we kick and scream when we are called to submit to a law outside of our own. It is easier to say, “Thanks God, but I’ve got this,” than to run to his arms and trust that he truly has our best interests in mind. We love to hold God’s hand when things are going smoothly and we are happy, but when we learn that he is asking something of us—that we are called to develop as moral and socially responsible people—we let go of his hand in shame and embarrassment, opting instead to run off and play on our own.
God’s love is reproving, but the discipline he applies is carried out through a fatherly kind of love. This is a love that sees the good when the child doesn’t; the kind that sets barriers for the sake of the child’s well-being. This is a love that guides us in saying “no” to our wanton desires, in order to help form inclinations to virtue and disdain for vice.
One of the blessings I’ve been given in becoming a mom is realizing that this kind of love—the protective and admonishing kind—is so very instinctive because it stems from a heart overflowing with love. My heart aches at the thought of all the times my son falls from climbing something he knows he wasn’t supposed to, or slipping when I told him not to run. It’s in those moments when he is sobbing in pain that my heart wants to cry out: “Don’t you know?! I told you not to do that because I knew you would get hurt!” I comfort him, but I also want to help him understand that when I tell him “no” it is because I want him to avoid pain. All of my “no’s” and “don’t do that’s” are not because I want to make my children’s lives miserable, but because I love them so much that I don’t want them to hurt or for them to hurt others.
Also, in knowing this kind of parental love I am continually growing to realize what it takes for me to be a child of God. It requires trust, and confidence in knowing that he has my best interests in mind. It means that, with the help of his grace, I have to allow his love to guide me towards the good—even if my ideas of what is “good for me” are contrary to his plan. And it demands that I seek reparation for the times when I disobey, and that I cry out in sorrow for the times that I lack faith in his everlasting love and seek instead to do things my way.
I think it is in this faithful obedience that we come to know God and he comes to “know” us. He knows each one of us from the moment that we were conceived, but it is this kind of relationship—a familial kind of knowing—that brings about a deeply intimate and relational bond. So much so, that when we knock, our Father opens the door inviting us to come in as his sons and daughters and rest in his goodness, take off our shoes, and stay as long as we like.