21th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Be Strong Enough to Strive
This narrow door is about stuff, plain and simple. City gates in Jesus’s time had narrow entrances on either side of the main opening, “the eye of the needle.” Until a camel had shed its bags, it couldn’t get through that part of the gate. This concept was so important to Jesus and His followers that all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) refer to it. Jesus sent out His followers in pairs with only the stuff on their backs. Jesus Himself lived a nomadic life, and to be a nomad, you can’t carry much stuff. Truly holy people don’t need to be nomads, but they still don’t need a lot of stuff. They just need Jesus.
I look around my house. I’m actually not much of a stuff person. I’m never happier than when I’m cleaning out a drawer, a closet, the basement and getting rid of stuff. But still I have a ton of stuff. I like stuff. I like to page through catalogues. I like to support local causes. It’s fun, and it’s fun to have just exactly what I need for an outfit, a project, a cooking endeavor.
I definitely could not get through the narrow door.
But our stuff is not always physical. We also are weighed down by our pride and our ego. Both definitely threaten to keep me on the outside of God’s gates. These things can be harder to shed than physical belongings. The good news is that Jesus doesn’t ask for perfection in our endeavor to lighten our load. He only asks us to try.
He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many…will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (verse 24). Strive. Not “dump everything you have and get your bum through, you idiot,” but strive. Try. Try hard. Do it your way, but do it. Just like exercise, effort makes us stronger. But we have to work at it. Being humble doesn’t come naturally for anyone.
Think about where your pride and ego (and maybe stuff too) gets in the way. Pick something small. Pray about it and then try to let it go. Or ask for forgiveness about it. Not just from God but face-to-face from the person you wronged. You might be surprised—it might be weighing them down and keeping them outside the gate too.
None of us is doomed to remain on the outside. God wants us all to get through, to join His party. But we have to take an active role. We have to identify our weaknesses and actually work on them, pray on them, do something about them. We have to demonstrate genuine effort in not relying on our preferred way. That’s really hard, especially for those of us who, by the world’s standards, are first. We are used to relying on ourselves to get the job done. We have to work having faith that Jesus will take care of our needs even if it’s not our way or in our time.
It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to bring us closer to God. He wants us all to feel welcomed at His party.