Second Sunday In Lent: “Walking Through the Narrow Door”
Psalm 27:1-4, 7-9, 11, 13-14
In the gospel, Jesus was asked, “Are there just a few who are being saved?” Jesus, instead of answering the question, did not give a number, but emphasized the importance of making sure that we are walking in the right way, the narrow path that leads to life.
What does it mean to be saved? To be saved does not mean that we secure our eternal fire insurance or ensure that we will go to a place called heaven. To be saved means our life is preserved, and we are saved from anything that destroys this life particularly sin. Sin is what destroys the life that God gave us until it eventually leads to death.
In Matthew 1:21, the angel said to Joseph in a dream, “You shall name the baby born to you and Mary Jesus because He will save you from your sins.” The angel did not say that He will save them from the fires of hell, but He will save them from their sins because the sin is the enemy. Sin results from the full blown stage of death, which is our ultimate and final enemy. Being saved is not going to a place called heaven after we die. The kingdom of heaven is not an afterlife place. The kingdom of heaven is where God’s rule is followed as it is in heaven. We pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.” If His will is done here on earth, His kingdom comes here. Being saved is walking thus. Being saved is walking according to the will of God here, now, and for eternity.
2Corinthians 3:17 NASB says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The Passion Translation says, “Now, the “Lord” I’m referring to is the Holy Spirit, and wherever He is Lord, there is freedom.” Lord means God and Master implying that He is obeyed. His will is followed. In Scriptures, Jesus expressed His will and the will of the Father that He is going to Jerusalem to be executed, and St. Peter made the statement, “Not so, Lord…” which is a contradiction in itself. If He is Lord, what He says is so. When it says that “where the Spirit of the Lord is,” it means that God’s will is followed where His commandment is obeyed, and His Word is done, and therefore there is liberty, freedom, and life.
Jesus preached and enacted the kingdom by obeying His Father's will and doing good and healing (Acts 10:38). The narrow gate that leads to life is not a ceremony or a sinner's prayer or baptism. Those are the initial steps, and it is not a one-time thing. Some Christians think that a relationship with God is a one-night stand. They pray the Sinner’s Prayer, and from that they think they are eternally secure and they can live the way they want to because their sins are forgiven – past, present, future. This is not so because the relationship with God is continuous. It requires striving. Strive to enter into the narrow door because this door leads to life.
In Matthew 7:12-14, Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the Golden Rule. Matthew’s words are: treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If we want people to treat us with kindness, treat them with kindness. If we want people to treat us with mercy or forgiveness, treat them the same way. Jesus says that the same way we want people to treat us, this is how we treat them. This is the Law and the Commandments, the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is the narrow way, and very few people follow it. What do many others follow? It is the way that is self-serving, the way that would advance self and profitable for them. It is not how salvation is earned, but how salvation is lived.
A phrase from our Collect today says, “God whose glory it is always to have mercy.” The glory of God is seen in the heavens, where the heavens declare the glory of God and His creative ability and power; but His glory is demonstrated in an extraordinary way in His mercy. His glory is always to have mercy. In the same way, we found our life in treating others well, in loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our life is derived from this just as the glory of God is seen in Him having mercy. As we treat others with mercy, we find life. As God has mercy on us, He gets glory. God is ever blessing and ever blessed. He is ever blessed not because He accumulates things for Himself, but because He always blesses. Likewise, His glory is seen in His having mercy upon us. Our life is sustained in our treating others well and in loving our neighbor as ourselves.
There was an Orthodox bishop that was invited to speak at a conference of Muslim clerics. The topic given to him was faith, morality, and the future of mankind. He thought, “If I preach about the Bible and Christianity and say, ‘This is true morality,’ the Muslims could say, “Koran is good because the Muslim religion is a religion of peace.” What the bishop told them was, “True morality consists in how well you take care of one another, not in some sort of behavior that we impose in each other.” We can have the Islam Sharia laws for morality, but the cure for morality is the forgiveness of sin and mercy and love, not an iron fist. Mercy is what demonstrates God’s glory because the way to life is narrow and the way to destruction is wide.
The Golden Rule says, “Treat your neighbor like you want them to treat you.” This is voluntary and Jesus did not say, “Make them earn your kindness to them.” Initiate the kindness, but there is no guarantee that it will come back to us. Sometimes, the principle of sowing and reaping does not apply, but we still initiate nonetheless. This voluntary kindness separates the children of God from the Gentiles. We love anyway; we are kind anyway even if it doesn’t return to us.
This is how I believe all the nations will be blessed – through our kindness. The narrow way is us saying, “As for me and my house, we choose to serve the Lord.” If we choose the Lord, it will be His will that will be done. What God says leads to life and very few people find that way to life because it is not as appealing as what the world offers. It doesn’t seem as profitable as other evil schemes.
Jesus said in the gospel that there were people who were shut out and they said, “But Lord, we drank in Your presence; we ate in Your presence; we listened to Your teachings.” What does this tell us? We can be sitting at His table, eating and drinking in His presence, listening to His teaching, but be evildoers. This is a sad thing to hear for we can say, “We attend Mass, we receive communion, and yet He will say, “You evildoer.” When Jesus uses the word ‘wicked’ in the gospels, He doesn’t mean non-Christians or those of other religion. Renew our minds! The ‘wicked’ are those who do evil and disobey His law.
Romans 2:26-27 says, “If the uncircumcised man is a doer of the Law, will not his obedience to Law be regarded as circumcision?” Translating this to our setting, “If a non-Christian or unbaptized person does the will of God, will not his obedience be regarded as Christianity or righteousness? Won’t God condemn a person, who was baptized, who sits in His presence, eats and drinks at His presence, who listens to His teachings, and yet does not obey? A non-Christian’s obedience will be regarded as righteousness as if he is baptized and a Christian and as if he is saved because he is walking the narrow path minus the ceremonies.
James 1:19-25 says, “Be doers not just hearers of the Word, deceiving yourself; the doer is blessed in his doing.” The doer will be blessed in his doing, not in his listening. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says that we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and He will judge us according to our deeds. It is not our belief or what we have heard, but what we have done. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the basis of judgment in the parable was love for neighbor as our self. Did we love the least of Jesus’ brothers? It is not whether we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. This is supposed to be the beginning, but this should bear fruits in the deeds.
In Philippians 3:20, St. Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven, which means we should behave accordingly as law abiding citizens of heaven. We are first citizens of heaven. We represent what the kingdom of heaven is all about and we wear white robes of righteousness. St. Paul said, “Walk according to the pattern you have in us, that is the behavior of those who are citizens of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is coming here on earth. We pray this in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We come from this Kingdom and we are the advance party. We are the preview of the coming attraction. We give the people here on earth a taste of what the kingdom of God that is coming here is all about. This is what we are to do and how we are to behave as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Philippians 3:18 says, “Many of you walk contrary to this and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.” Their minds are set on earthly things and they are turned toward self which is the definition of sin. They are self-centered; self-serving. Wide is the road that they take, and it may seem that it is good, but it ends in destruction. Learn from the story of the prodigal son who thought that his inheritance is forever and squandered it, and he ended up in the pig pen and ate the pig’s food. Philippians 3:21 says that for those who yield themselves to the grace of God, Jesus will transform their humble state to conform with His glory. This is not just talking about physics, but about being predestined to be conformed to the image of God. This is not about bodies that don’t age or one that doesn’t get sick or that can penetrate walls. More importantly, it is the image of God that will be in that state when we receive our resurrection. We will be like Him and we will see Him and we will know Him because we will be just like Him. I encourage us: don’t grow weary; continue to strive to enter the narrow door. It is a process; it is a transformation. God will transform us and it takes time.
There was this story a Christian, a parishioner, and he wrote to the local newspaper and complained that he has been attending Church for thirty years. During this time, he had listened to some 3,000 sermons and he said, “For the life of me, I cannot remember a single one of them. I think I am just wasting my time and the pastors and teachers are just wasting their time as well.” For weeks, this created a controversy in the paper to the delight of the editor because it was being followed. Until one person wrote, “I have been married for thirty years, and in that span of time, my wife had cooked some 30,000 meals, but for the life of me, I cannot remember a single menu. But those meals strengthened me and gave me the strength to do what I needed to do. If I hadn’t eaten those meals, I would be dead today.”
Sometimes, we may feel that we don’t hear the voice of the Lord as powerful or majestic or that which shakes the wilderness of Kadesh; but sometimes, it is the still small voice. Sometimes, we don’t feel it or sometimes we don’t feel like it is exciting, but there are days that we are joyful and happy, but it doesn’t mean that our nourishment from the Lord is not working. The song says, “The Word is working mightily in me no matter the circumstances, what I feel or see.” Trust the Word. Trust the grace. Trust the Sacrament. Don’t trust the instrument; the server or the speaker. I am not saying that they don’t have the responsibility to accurately to share the Word and to prepare themselves for ministry to serve. What I am saying is that the power is in the grace, in the Word! It is not in human beings, but in the Spirit of God! Trust even if we don’t feel anything, but if we do feel anything, trust it! Don’t always expect that it is the big and spectacular things. Elijah was corrected by God because he was looking for God in the wind, in the earthquake, in the big forest fire, when God was speaking in the still small voice. It carried the same power because God does not change.
The same power that created the heavens was seen in a baby born in a manger. The same that could wipe out armies is seen in a criminal hanging on a cross. It is the same God whose glory it is to have mercy. We look for His glory in big things, looking for a miracle that we can believe that He is glorious. God forgave our sin and this is glorious! He had mercy on us and this is glorious! He will transform our body to conform to His glory.
Don’t just say that we don’t have to do anything because there is the grace. No, the grace is there to enable us to run the race. What God does is feed and what we do is deed! We need to understand this because this is the narrow way and this leads to life, and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.