Would God exclude anyone? In today’s Gospel (Luke 13:22-30), Jesus is asked whether those to be saved will be few. He responds: “Try to come in through the narrow gate. Many will try to enter and be unable.” What is the narrow gate? Why would God exclude many who are unable to enter it?
Every passage of the Gospel and every verse of the Gospel have to be understood in the context of the whole Gospel. If someone took a remark out of the context of a conversation, what the person actually said can be distorted.
Jesus was and is th Father’s invitation to us. Luke, the author of today’s Gospel, especially emphasizes Jesus’ desire to welcome sinners. Recognizing this characteristic of Luke’s Gospel, the Italian poet Dante (d. 1321) describes Luke as scriba mansuetudinis Christi, “the scribe of the gentleness of Christ” (Dante Alighieri, De Monàrchia, I).
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus instructs us to be gracious as the Father is gracious: “You will be children of the Most High, for He Himself is gracious to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk 6:35). According to Luke, Jesus teaches that we should imitate the Father’s mercy: “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).
Luke’s Gospel is unique in presenting us the parable of the prodigal son, where the father (God) rushes out to embrace the wayward son on is return (Lk 15:11-31).
With Luke’s emphasis on graciousness and mercy, we can ask why some aren’t able to enter by the narrow gate?
God extends His merciful embrace to all through the narrow gate which is His Son.
Some outright reject the offer of mercy. Others will claim: “We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets” (Lk 13:26). Their casual attitude did not take God’s invitation seriously.
On the other hand, those who surrender themselves to the Father’s mercy discover as St. Paul did that God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort”: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 1:3).
Because God is good, God acts in our lives so that we may be good. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that God wills to share His goodness to that we are like Him: “God wills His goodness to be diffused as much as possible through the communication of likeness. This, then, is what God wills in other things, that there be in them the likeness of His goodness” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 29).
The second reading for today, the Letter to the Hebrews, (Heb 12:5-7, 11-13), compares God’s actions in our lives to the actions parents seeking to train their children in a good way.
Hebrews speaks of God’s “discipline”: “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord nor lose heart when He reproves you” (Heb 12:5). Just as parents are attentive to the development of their children, God forms us. Hebrews recalls the book of Proverbs, “The Lord disciplines those He loves” (Prov. 3:12) and adds, “He scourges every son He receives.”
This “discipline” and “scourging” might suggest that God treats us harshly. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews, explains, “If He chastises, He does not hate; but His chastisement is directed to our good, because He speaks to us as to sons.”
Thomas explains that parents discipline their children because they know the troubles that will come upon a child “who follows his own impulses.” As Thomas said, this discipline is directed to our good.
Parents want their children to be good, even when children can barely see beyond their own impulses. God also wants us to be not only good but the good that God desires. How wonderful it is that God is acting in our lives in a good way.
Life brings its difficulties and setbacks that can easily discourage us. At times, we might consider our troubles as punishment from God or a lack of care.
However, if we look back on our lives we can often see good emerging from our difficulties. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that God loves us because we come from Him, just as parents love their children: “But all agents in their own way love their effects as such: thus, parents love their children, poets their poetry, and artists their works. All the more, then, does God not hate anything, since He is the cause of all things” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 96).
Rather than rejecting us, God seeks to make us good as He is. St. Thomas reflects: “This is the good of each thing, namely, to participate in the likeness of God; for every other goodness is nothing other than a certain likeness of the first goodness. Therefore, God wills good to each thing. Hence, He hates nothing” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 96).
Hebrews instructs: “Lift up the drooping hands and straighten the weak knees” (Heb 12:12). Because God is acting with us, we can do good things. St. Thomas comments: “For since the hand is the instrument of the body, it is said to droop, when it stops performing good works; therefore, it must be lifted up by a right intention to do things pleasing to God: ‘Let us lift up our hearts with our hands to God’ (Lam 3:41) (Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews)..
Thomas adds, “Those who have not the courage to endure adversity bravely have weak knees. Therefore, this weakness must be put aside: ‘Strengthen the feeble hands and confirm the weak knees’ (Is. 35:3). Therefore, lift up the hand and knees and do not give in to idleness or hesitate because of weakness” (Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews).
In his closing words on this passage, Thomas suggests that God’s purpose is to heal us, especially in our affections: “But rather be healed, for just as bodily health consists in the proper balance of the bodily functions, so spiritual health consists in the proper ordering of the affections: ‘Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed’ (Jer. 17:14).”
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/