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Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’
Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’
For many this may seem a strange question. Surely the kingdom of God is open to all. Surely there is not a quota. Surely all who strive to live a life of faithful discipleship will be welcomed into God’s nearer presence.
In the Revelation to John, which was not written until about 95 AD, almost sixty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, there is talk of the 144,000, that is 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, who will be ‘sealed’, that is given the special protection of God, as they continue to carry out God’s mission during the time of the Antichrist. In later times, and not in the teachings of Jesus, this teaching from the book of Revelation has been twisted into something very different. It has become a specific total of those who might expect to be ‘saved’ at the end of time.
Such a distortion flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching about those who will be saved. Jesus tells us to strive to enter through the narrow door. Jesus also makes it clear that amongst those who will be saved will be many who are not of the Jewish nation, but those who will come from east and west, from north and south. Jesus did not come to ‘sell tickets’ for a place in heaven. Jesus came to bring the gift of God’s grace into this world, a gift that makes it possible for us all to be ‘saved’.
There are no free passes into heaven, though. All who would seek to go through the narrow gate need to have worked for that privilege, it is no one’s by right. And the work we have to do is that of active and faithful discipleship. As we strive to prove ourselves worthy of being saved, we are also called to step back and help others along the path, whether they are known to us or not. As Jesus said: people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.
Let us pray that we might be given the strength to travel the narrow way that will fit us for our place in the kingdom of God. Let us pray that our words and actions in this life might help others to join us on the journey. Let us pray for the humility to recognize the worthiness of all to enter God’s kingdom when all strife in this world finally ends.