The Narrow Door That Surprises Us All
And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:29-30 ESV) When asked about THE Messianic question – “Will those who are saved be few?” Jesus reveals that salvation is a Narrow Door that in the end will surprise us all. Today at International Lutheran Church, we are reminded of the doors through which we have come and what they mean not only for us but for all.
No doubt you noticed the big red doors that greeted you on your way into our sanctuary this morning. Some have even told me that these same doors served as a silent invitation, provoking curiosity as to what was inside. They have for over 60 years now been the one feature that has marked our identity as a community of faith. Doors are a powerful symbol and meaningful part of our everyday lives that we seldom take time to notice. They are the very entry and gateway through which we pass from outside to inside. And as much as they are a symbol of entry, they also serve a function of protection and safety. It is not surprising then that in an Asian or occidental culture, a door/gate would become the very symbol and representation of community and belonging. I find it fascinating that the word “we” or “us” in many Asian cultures is written as a person standing next to a door. One could say that the door in relation to humanity creates unity and a common shared space and invitation to all.
We don’t always experience a door as an invitation and opening into a community, though. Sometimes it can and does become a symbol of isolation and exclusivity. Jesus’ reference today in Luke’s gospel to not just any door but the Narrow Door is so critical. For us to hear everything that He is saying, we need to keep in mind the context of the conversation. First, Jesus is on His journey to Jerusalem. This is not a summertime vacation to enjoy the city life, but rather the fulfillment of the prophet’s words and the will of God. He is going to His cross and death. For His followers this journey most likely was still viewed with excitement and intense interest. But for some, especially those who had been enjoying his miracles, eloquent sermons and sometimes critical contempt for those elites within society, it may have been a good time to step back and see how things played out. We know in the gospel of John that at one point many of those who had been following turned away. Perhaps this was also some of the background to the negatively posed question – “Will only a few be saved?”
Jesus’ response and reference to the Narrow Door through which all must enter in order to belong to the Kingdom of God serve both as a check on our often-inflated view of self as well as a surprising invitation to all, even me. Let’s be honest, when we think of “we” or “us” especially in relation to the image of the “door” our perception or perhaps assumption is that “we” are on the “inside” of things. The disciples were equally as tempted to see their following as evidence of their commitment to the cause and to Jesus as their teacher and friend. Yet, in all reality, Jesus reminds the follower and us something that not even Moses could assume. For even he who was called to come up to the presence of God trembled at the fear of Him. We don’t belong just because we hang out near the door; we belong because we have been welcomed inside. Where we are from - North or South, East or West - is not important. In fact "where we are from" does not help us at all but is only part of our rightful condemnation on all of us. In other words, one answer to the question – “will it only be a few?” is simply “Not even one!”
But here comes the surprise: right when we realize all our actions to identify with God and His Kingdom mean nothing, He flings wide the door in open invitation to all! The happy “few” will be from East and West, North and South, one surprise after another. Not only will they all be there, but those who we think are first, they are last, and those who we think are last, they are first. Salvation belongs to our God and to His Christ. The question is not really about “how many” but “how any” will be saved. “Strive to enter through the narrow door” is Jesus’ open invitation to all. He is the Narrow Door. He is the one who makes of us who are outside the Kingdom, the very community of God. Through His blood splashed across the wood of the cross, we take on a new identity in Him through baptism. We become part of Him as He is put on us. We are given a seat at the table of the King and feast with all the saints not on our accomplishments and hard work but upon what He has won for us all through His death and resurrection. The fruit of His cross, the forgiveness of our sin and the incorporation into His presence is what we eat and drink! At His table we are welcomed and made part of Him so that our lives, our very person becomes in Him a doorway for others to see His grace and love. It is not the big red doors of ILC that attract people into our community but rather the people of ILC - you and me - who have been transformed through the “blood-red” door of God in Jesus who God uses to attract all.
Yes, Jesus’ words for us today are sobering but they are also inviting. For He is the Narrow Door who has been opened to each one of us.