Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” What we all really want to know is how hard is it to be saved? Will my family and friends be saved? Will I will saved?
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord tells us that He comes to “gather nations of every language.” He speaks of “distant coastlands.” He speaks of gathering “brothers and sisters from all the nations.” Today’s psalm echoes this when it speaks of “all you nations…all you peoples.” The responsorial verse comes from Jesus’ words telling his disciples to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News.“
God offers a place in his kingdom to everyone, no matter where they are from, what language they speak, or the color of their skin.
Does this mean that everyone gets into Heaven?
How does Jesus respond to the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He does not say everyone will get into Heaven. In fact, He calls them to “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” To “strive” means that it is not easy. It takes real effort. When Jesus says the gate is narrow, this means that there is a particular path we must follow.
Jesus continues, “for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” So, not everyone will get into Heaven. We must strive and ask for God’s help.
One might hope it is enough to just show up at church once in a while. Jesus speaks of those who will come after the door is locked and how He does not know them. They respond saying, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” They saw the Lord but they did not embrace what He said. They did not make Jesus part of who they are.
Now, none of us are perfect. God knows that. He is willing to forgive us when we come to him with a repentant heart and do our penance.
Why do we need to do a penance? Completing our penance shows our sorrow for what we have done along with our desire to change. Our penance also serves as the “discipline of the Lord.” Sometimes discipline is done as a punishment. God desires to discipline us to help us change. The Lord disciplines us because He loves us. As we read in Hebrews, “For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline.“
The Letter of Hebrews says, “all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Discipline may cause pain in the short-term but it serves a higher purpose.
Discipline is a lifelong process as we seek to know the Lord more fully each day. Here, we might think of what an athlete does. Athletes begin by learning how to play the game. Then, they practice. Then, they begin to play the game. Do they ever stop learning and practicing? No. There can be new things to learn or new strategies to develop. Even the best athletes keep practicing. If you want to win, you have to keep practicing.
The same is true in our relationship with God. There are foundational things that we learn as we begin to know God. The learning does not end when we complete the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). Neither should our efforts to keep the commandments. All that God teaches us serves to make it possible for us to “enter through the narrow gate.“