21st Sunday Year C
The Doors to God’s Salvation.
By Rev Fr Gilbert Alaribe
Today’s gospel reading speaks of narrow doors, shut doors that leave people outside, and open doors that will let people in from east and west, north and south – to the kingdom. To these allusions to doors Jesus adds the warning: “Strive to enter by the narrow door!”
During the course of my preparation for this homily, I was reminded of the story of the door of the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem. At the beginning, when this Church was built by Emperor Constantine, it had gigantic portals and doors. As a result the Church became a target for plunderers during the Crusade. It was then that the idea came up to close up the gigantic portals and to leave open only a narrow little door. The present small entrance was made during the Ottoman era to prevent mounted horsemen from entering the Basilica. Even today, whoever would want to enter the Church of Nativity must bend low, and drop all the baggage one was carrying. This was how the great treasures of this Basilica were saved from the hands of plunderers.
Strive to enter by the narrow door! Doors have great significance in the Bible. There are about 400 occurrences of words that connote doors in the Bible, and are often used as a metaphor for opportunities in our lives. You may not realize all the doors you have before you right now. Doors can be entrances or exits. They can be a bridge to something great or a barrier. They can represent acceptance or rejection.
In John 10:7,9 Jesus describes himself; “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Woven through scripture are the stories of many men and women of God who worked as sheep tenders and leaders of the people. Political and religious leaders were often referred to as shepherds: Judah, Jacob, Moses, and David. We remember Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”. Through Jesus God opens the door to the sheepfold of his Chosen People.
In the Bible, doors are metaphors for the choices we make every day. We discover early on in life that we can walk through some doors and not others. But we need to make a decision each time we see a door.
My destiny will be shaped by which doors I walk past and which doors I walk through.
These doors, whether you walk through them or walk past them, will shape your life. The tough part is knowing the right door. Every door will cost you some time. Some will cost you money. You can’t walk through every door.
Sometimes a door represents an opportunity from God. You want to open those doors—even if there is opposition. Opportunity plus opposition equals God’s will. When God opens a door, it’s the right door. It doesn’t mean the door will be problem-free, though.
People often believe a shut door is a problem. Maybe you lose a job, or a relationship ends. You’re devastated. But you come to find out that God shut the door for your protection.
Suffering as a Doorway/gateway to Salvation
The second reading speaks of God using suffering to discipline us, just as a father will do to his son; “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him.” God uses our sufferings and pains to filter us, so that we might become better. A novice once asked the great Michelangelo how he sculptured such beautiful statutes. Pointing to an angel he had just chiseled out of marble, he said, “I saw the angel in the marble, I chiseled until I set it free.”
In a similar vein, yet not as eloquent, a southern artisan had completed sculpting a horse out of rock. Bewildered by the transformation, a spectator said, “How in the world did you do it?” The artist replied, “I knock everything off that don’t look like a horse.”
Likewise, God wants to free us to be all that we can be. He has to knock off the rough edges of our sinfulness, chisel away the wrongful attitudes, and sandpaper our character flaws. For that to happen he disciplines us.
God’s Open Door of Salvation
The question that started the teaching of Jesus about salvation in the Gospel reading was this: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” the question had been a source of debate at the time – how many will be saved, how many not? The Pharisees and some of the religious leaders of Israel had, on their own, excluded from salvation the Gentiles, Sinners, Tax Collectors, Prostitutes, etc. For them, the door of salvation was not to be opened according to merit, but according to status.
In the first reading the prophet Isaiah speaks about the temple of God as a centre of pilgrimage for all the peoples of the world. In our human world we often open our doors only to an exclusive list of friends and family. The image of the prophet Isaiah suggests that the Church should be a welcoming, inclusive community open to all peoples. Whenever Christians adopt an exclusive mindset or display manifest bigotry, they betray their vocation.
What doors to human thriving are in your hands at this moment? How generously are you willing to open this door to people who do not speak the same language with you, people who look differently, and possibly worship God differently.
The door to God’s salvation remains open, but narrow. It is narrow not because it is oppressive but because it demands that we restrain our pride and our fear, in order to open ourselves to God with humble and trusting hearts. We are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. Today God is opening to us the door of his mercy, inviting us equally to break open the doors to our hearts and receive this generous offer of mercy.