This week Doan and I went to Toronto to visit some of her family, and we made a road trip out of it. We went to Toronto via northwestern Pennsylvania and Cleveland, stopping to see a couple of friends from seminary and help out a mission in Franklin, PA. I had never traveled into Canada by car before, so I was looking forward to seeing how the border-crossing would go; my excitement may have bordered on geeky. When we came to the Peace Bridge in Buffalo there were no other cars going over the bridge with us, I remarked how maybe Canada has fallen in popularity, and then we hit the border checkpoint. Something like 15 cars waiting to go through, despite the lack of other traffic. Strive to enter by the narrow door, I thought.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses two words you don’t hear very often in church anymore. The first word is strive. Strive to enter by the narrow door. So what is it to strive? One definition of strive or striving is to struggle or fight vigorously, to fight whatever it is you are fighting for or against with your whole body, your whole self. Another definition of strive is to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something. When we strive, we strive for something. When I looked up the word strive on my google machine, several motivational posters popped up. Most had pictures of men bursting out of the starting gates for a hundred yard dash or sailboats cresting waves, and underneath it would say “Strive: make the most of every opportunity.” I don’t know how exactly Jesus said the Aramaic word that Luke translated into Greek, but the word that Luke chose to use for strive has the same root as the Greek word for agony. We talked a little last week about how Christ disregarded the pain and shame of the Cross for our sake, and how we must do the same; this week, we see agony being traded, the agony of the Cross for our agony, our sometimes painful striving for the goal, for the narrow door.
The second word we don’t hear very often in church, at least not in a positive sense, is the word narrow. Nowadays being called narrow is one of the gravest insults; he’s narrow-minded, her church is narrow in its thinking. Being narrow apparently goes hand-in-hand with being small: if you don’t accept all religions than your god is too small, or if you don’t go with the latest thing then you are “putting God in a very small box,” as if any of us could. Narrow equals not good, and yet here we are, being told to strive, to fight with all our might, disregarding the pains of hell, to enter through the narrow door.
And where is this narrow door? The question is actually who is this narrow door. “I am the door,” Jesus said, “if any one enters by me, he will be saved.” To modern, pluralistic man, this is quite offensive, and it should be. As my wife said to me at lunch (yesterday), “All roads to not lead to Rome.” What she was saying is that all roads do not lead to Heaven, different paths lead to different doors, and only one door opens to truth, life, to being with God forever.
Narrow, they say, too narrow-minded, the gospel you preach puts God in a very small box. Not so. We have put ourselves in this situation, this situation where we must strive, where the door is singular and narrow. We have chosen sin; we chose and choose daily, right, to reject the good and take the bad, and so Jesus knows the dangers we face on every side, how easy it is for us to choose the wrong door. So in many ways, God has not made it more difficult to know how to enter His Kingdom, rather He has made it easy to know, He has posted big signs with arrows pointing at the door and then circled the door with neon lights: Jesus is the resurrection, the truth, the life, and the way, Jesus is the narrow door. Make no mistake, there are other doors: there’s the door Mohammed put up and the door the Buddha put up and the door Vishnu put up. Those are doors, and they are wide and easy, but those doors lead to death. So strive for the narrow door, fight sin with vigor, keep your hearts and minds in the love of Christ Jesus, so that first or last, you enter the Kingdom of God.