For August 13/14, 2007 Synchroblog titled Christianity: Inclusive or Exclusive?
Luke 13:22-30 (New International Version)
The Narrow Door
22Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
He said to them, 24"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.'
"But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'
26"Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'
27"But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'
28"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."
When I preached on this passage last year as part of our journey through Luke, what struck me most were the wide variety of interpretations I encountered (and most everything here is gleaned from encountering and assimilating others). This passage is a battleground for drawing lines and telling the world who exactly is in or out of the Christian faith. The exclusivists rejoice that only a few will be saved (go to heaven) and the rest will perish (go to hell). But who the few are and what exactly comprises the narrow door differ from group to group. Some of the interpretations include to be a Catholic who takes Eucharist, or to invite Jesus into your heart, or to be saved in spirit and especially in Truth, or (for women) to bear children. Then there are the Universalist interpretations. They say that pretty much everyone gets into heaven. The narrow door for them is the way of love and universal acceptance. If you fail to love and think you get in because you belong to some elite club, you will be excluded – i.e. everyone gets in except the exclusivists. It's a game - whose definition of the door will win? How inclusive or exclusive is our faith? Who can we point fingers at and say "you're different, you're wrong, you're not welcome"?
But then we look at what Jesus actually says in the passage. The guy asked the question, then Jesus starts talking. Jesus starts off talking about a “narrow door” and about “many” who will strive to enter it and won’t be able to get in. His questioner probably would have liked where that was heading. He’s being invited to think of himself as an insider – a very select group of insiders. And those on the outside are left weeping and gnashing their teeth. The guy must be thinking, “This is sounding good.” Then Jesus flips the script as he is so prone to do. He talks about people coming “from east and west, from north and south” to eat in the kingdom of God. And he says that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”; and I’m sure the guy is thinking, “not so good”. He’s looking for an either/or answer and Jesus gives him a both/and, while at the same time not really answering the question the way he wants him to at all. In fact, Jesus didn’t at first give numbers. He essentially said “Bad question. The real question is whether you are striving to enter through the narrow door.” Essentially, to quote Jesus’ words on another occasion, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”
But what if this passage is not talking about salvation from sin and going to heaven when we die? What if it's not about drawing lines and pointing fingers or deciding who is in or who is out? When the Jews of Jesus’ day talked about being “saved” it was in reference to being delivered from Roman oppression. They were looking for a Messiah who would come and lead a new Kingdom. The general idea was that the Messiah would use force to overthrow the Romans and establish a Kingdom of the Jews for the Jews and only the Jews. But Jesus’ recent comments as recorded by Luke didn’t really seem to support that idea. Jesus was calling for a way of peace and love – not violence and destruction. He made it sound as if his kingdom would be encompassing all sorts of people. And Jesus gave warnings that those who didn’t follow in the way of the kingdom – the way of love, peace, inclusion – would find destruction.
This passage, I think, is another of those warnings. The kingdom Jesus initiated is an upside down kingdom – it is counter-cultural. One has to be deliberate about following its ways – a better word would be strive or agonize. It would be easy to pursue other paths, to not care for what God cares about, to continue in the way of violence. But Jesus warns that the day of destruction will come and that for some it will be too late to choose the way of peace. Even if someone was a Jew who ate with Jesus and listened to him preach, they can’t be saved from destruction unless they enter through the narrow door and actually live in the ways of the kingdom. And he was right. The Jews didn’t choose the upside-down kingdom of love. They continued to rebel, and in AD 70 they saw their temple defiled and torn down, their city destroyed, and what was left of their people scattered. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. The destruction of Jerusalem wasn’t a divine punishment. It was just the natural consequence of their actions (violent rebellion against empire). So were many or few saved from Rome? Jesus urged the Jew to strive hard to make sure he was saved – to fully follow Kingdom values. But because the way of peace was not chosen, the early Christian Jews were scattered and were able to bring the message of Christ and his kingdom to all the earth. So in the end many were saved and all the nations became part of the kingdom.
So instead of dwelling on who is in or who is our, instead of creating labels of exclusive or inclusive, why don't we try to follow Jesus' admonition to make every effort to enter in by the narrow door. To strive to live out kingdom values and to follow in the way of Christ?
Other Synchrobloggers on this topic:Sally ColemanMike BursellSonja AndrewsSam NortonDavid FisherCobus van WyngaardSteve HayesMichael BennettJenelle D'AllessandroJohn Smulo
Labels: Bible, Synchroblog, Theology