Jesus 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 gate,
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.”
A 2005 ABC News poll found that 89% of Americans believed in Heaven, which is consistent with data going back 30 years. More interesting is the fact that among those who believed in Heaven, 85% thought they would personally go there, such is our preening narcissism.
Today’s Gospel reading from Luke, however, is a sober reminder that we flatter ourselves when we imagine that we are destined for Heaven, for our Lord Jesus Christ said the gate is “narrow” and many “will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
Recall that although we read and hear about near-death experiences (NDE) of what appears to be Heaven, there are NDE accounts of being in a dark place, full of demons. As an example, during his 2004 quadruple bypass surgery, Bill Clinton had a frightening near-death experience in which he found himself in a dark hellish place. As he recounted in an interview on ABC’s Primetime Live:
“I saw, like, dark masks crushing, like, death masks being crushed, in series, and then I’d see these great circles of light and then, like, Hillary’s picture or Chelsea’s face would appear on the light, and then they’d fly off into the dark.”
The road to Heaven is a rigorous and demanding one. Afterall, Jesus did say “I have come to set the earth on fire” (Luke 12:49). So we are to look upon our life on this mortal coil as a trial by fire, wherein we must rid “ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Brothers and sisters,
You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.
Only the holy go to Heaven. I want to be holy, and I so want you all to be holy. So let’s help each other trod that hard and “narrow” path of goodness, no matter the slings and arrows, the trials and tribulations. And at all times, “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1,2).
Jesus, I love you.
Rejoice that we have lived to see another glorious Sunday! And may the love and peace and joy and goodness of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you!