“Are you saved”? When the questioner asked Jesus “How many will be saved?” he was assuming that the salvation of God’s Chosen People was virtually guaranteed, provided they kept the Law. In other words, the Kingdom of God was reserved for the Jews alone, and Gentiles would be shut out. The Jewish catechism, Mishnah, taught: “All Israelites have a share in the world to come.” The author of the Apocalypse of Ezra declared, “this age the Most High has made for the many, but the age to come for a few” (4 Ezra 8:1). Hence, Jesus’ answer must have come as a shock. Jesus affirms that God wants all persons to enjoy eternal life. But he stresses our need for constant fidelity and vigilance throughout our lives. Thus, Jesus reminds us that, even though God wants all of us to be saved, we all need to work at it.
Entry into God’s kingdom is not automatically granted, based purely on religious affiliation or nationality, so we cannot presume on God’s mercy and do nothing by way of response to God’s invitation. What Jesus is saying is that salvation is not guaranteed for anyone. “Outside the Church there is no salvation” was a rallying cry for centuries. But Jesus declares that nobody can claim that he is “saved,” possessing a “visa” to Heaven. How many will be saved in the end is a decision that rests with God and depends on His Justice which includes His Mercy. Jesus came to bring God’s love and freedom to the whole world. The message of his Gospel is that there is not a single person, people, nation, race, or class, which will be excluded from experiencing the love and liberation that God offers. Hence, the role of the Christian community, from the beginning until the end of time, is, first and foremost, to proclaim to the whole world the Good News of God’s love for the world, and then to show this Good News to be real, made visible in the loving, sharing, and serving lives of individual Christians. So, to be “saved” means to live and to die in a close, loving relationship with God and with others.
Jesus issued a series of sayings and parables that emphasized the difficulty involved in entering God’s Kingdom, and he stressed the need for our constant fidelity and vigilance throughout our lives. Jesus also insisted that salvation was an urgent matter — the “narrow gate” was open now but would not remain so indefinitely (“the master of the house will lock the door”). Then he added two conditions: a) Eternal salvation is the result of a struggle: “keep on striving to enter.” (The Greek word agonizomai means strenuous effort in athletic competition. It is like the effort one would make in swimming against the current in a river. A man must ever be going forward or else he will go backward. b) We must enter through the “narrow gate” of sacrificial and selfless service.
God allows us to decide every day what road we will walk down and what gate we will choose. He encourages us, however, to choose His way: “Choose life” (Moses – Dt 30:19-20); “Choose this day whom to serve” (Joshua – Jos 24:15); ”If God is Lord, follow Him” (Elijah – 1 Kgs 18:21); “There are two paths: one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two is great.”(Didache); “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). This means a consistent denial of self and the steady relinquishing of sinful pleasures, pursuits, and interests. St. Paul lists these sins in Galatians 5:19-21: “The works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, and occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” Paul then enumerates“ good works” that are representative of the “narrow road” and “narrow gate.” These are “the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). In other words, the “narrow road” or “narrow gate” concerns our everyday living—our relationships with God and with one another. To enter the narrow gate involves being with the blessed ones (poor, peacemakers, persecuted, etc), being salt and light consistently, following Jesus’ radical way about murder/anger, adultery/lust, divorce, truth-telling, choosing mercy over revenge, loving enemies. And it involves doing good deeds for the right reasons; it involves pursuing the Kingdom and God’s justice instead of fame and fortune; and it involves not condemning others. It involves repentance, obedience, humility, righteousness, truth, and discipleship. Hence, we are to strive to enter through the “narrow gate” by prayer and supplication, diligently seeking deliverance from those things which would bar our entrance and acquiring those things which would facilitate our entry.