Text: Luke 13:22-30
Gospel for Proper 16, Year C
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 1:7)
Imagine for a moment that you have two airline tickets to some far off destination where you’ve always dreamed of going. You’ve arrived at the airport in plenty of time. Finally the plane begins to board. You’re checked in already, and you know that your seat is near the plane door; so you wait until almost everyone has got on. Maybe you take a moment and grab a coffee for the flight.
As you approached the gate, to your horror the attendant shuts the door in your face. He apologises profusely, and says he hates this part of his job. The flight was overbooked, the plane was full already, and you’ve been bumped. “What about my confirmed seat,” you ask, showing him the ticket. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know how you must feel. I am so sorry. We’re going to put you on the next flight in ten hours!’
Perhaps one of the most infuriating situations is the possibility of getting bumped from your flight due to the airline overbooking. A video went viral of a man being dragged down the aisle of a United Airlines plane after he refused to give up his seat. The idea that an airline can sell you a service and then not give it to you seems like it should be forbidden
Jesus’ warning in this passage sounds as though it’s every bit as unreasonable as the airline overbooking the flight. If you’ve got a confirmed seat, surely you ought to be allowed on board the plane. Our Gospel lesson may appear just as unfair. It seems unfair for the master of the house to let people in up to a certain point and then, when he’s shut the door in the faces of the next people, to protest that he never knew them. But a moment’s thought about what’s being taught in this passage will reveal that the warning is very much needed.
The Urgent Warning
As Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, he gets asked a theological question, “Are only a few going to be saved?” It was Jewish teaching of the day that all Israelites would be saved, except only those who were guilty of really terrible sins. If you were born a Jew you were automatically saved simply by virtue of being Jewish, unless you really messed it up. The person asking the question wants this idea confirmed by Jesus. Interestingly, Jesus refuses to answer this question directly; he will not give statistics and figures to satisfy human curiosity. Jesus won’t let guy asking the question only think about others without giving thought to himself. What he gives is a stern warning. This warning asks, “Whether there are few or many is beside the point. Are you going to be saved?” Instead of questioning about others, this man has the obligation to see to it that he is among those who are saved.
Jesus is addressing the Jews, who were literal descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He challenged what they presumed was just a given. The messiah tells the Jewish people that just because you were born an Israelite, doesn’t mean you were guaranteed salvation. God is giving Israel this last chance, through the work of Jesus, but he is the final messenger. If he is refused, there will be no further opportunity. Those who wait to see what happens later, and who then presume that because they once shared a casual meal with Jesus they will somehow be all right, will find that there are no promises for those who did not take the chance when it was offered.
The urgent warning which Jesus gives the Jews of his day is also applicable to us. In the parable Jesus gives, the latecomers base their appeal to the Master of the house upon the fact that they say they have met him; they have ate with him, they have listened to him—but they did not actually take the opportunity to go in through his narrow door when it was open before them. One can be so close to the promises of God and yet miss the boat. This can show up in a lot of different ways. People in the Church can assume that just because they have been born into a Christian family, that they are automatically saved. Like the Jews who thought it was mostly a matter of cultural heritage, some call themselves Christian, not because they personally trust in Jesus, but because of their family connection, because they’re part of a particular denomination, or they have some cultural contact with Christianity. Being in close proximity to the Gospel all your life doesn’t make you automatically saved. Salvation doesn’t work by osmosis. Salvation is not a privilege you inherit. Association with a church, or being part of a strong Christian family is not enough. It can certainly help. But, the question is not, “Is your family going to be saved?” It’s, “Are you going to be saved?” God doesn’t save us by proxy or through heredity.
But Jesus warning can apply also to those who think salvation works automatically. Just because you received the Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion doesn’t mean you’re automatically saved. Just because you hear or read the Word doesn’t mean you’ve entered the narrow door. The Word and Sacraments deliver salvation to you, this is true, but they are not magic. Your own personal faith in Jesus as he is given to you in Word and Sacrament is still required. The problem here is that when we think like this we’re placing our trust not in Jesus, but in ourselves or others. Now, Jesus doesn’t want to give us false fears. He wants us to audit our lives so we will be sure to take the narrow way. He wants us to take a moment and examine where we stand with God. He wants you to ask yourself the question: Am I going to be saved? Don’t let your religion or your family deceive you into thinking that you don’t need to personally appropriate salvation. The result of trusting in family; the result of assuming that you’re saved just because you’ve spent your life in close proximity to Jesus, is a closed door, and a fiery hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
How to Enter the Narrow Door
The master of the house says to those in the parable, “I do not know where you come from.” Jesus doesn’t just want you to be in close proximity to the Gospel. He doesn’t want you to be an acquaintance, a friend of a friend. No, Jesus is calling you to trust in Him. Jesus is the narrow door. He is the way to the heavenly feast. There is only one narrow door to heaven, but this door is open wide, and it leads to salvation!
Come in through God’s open narrow door. But there is no room through this door for our works. God does not owe us salvation because of our family or piety. So why does Jesus say, “Strive to enter through the narrow door?” Isn’t that a contradiction? Being saved means giving up on our own efforts and privileges and instead trusting in Jesus’ work for you. That is why entering the narrow door still is an effort, it involves a struggle. We strive and struggle against our own flesh. You and I are saints and sinners at the same time, and our Old Adam is at war with the new man. We still feel that inclination, that dark desire, to do what we know is wrong. Every day we have to stand face to face with the fatal allurement of sin. We are constantly being enticed to tune God out, to not trust in Christ above all things. That’s why the way of salvation involves a certain striving. Salvation is all God’s work for us in Christ, entirely apart from our works of self-justification. We are so addicted to ourselves that giving up on our own efforts and heritage can be arduous. Our life is lived in this fallen world and in this corrupted flesh, so it does involve a striving and a struggle. Our Psalm said, “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” We cry out to God and he delivers us! God puts to death our old sinful flesh by his Law. He raises us to the new life of faith through the Gospel. That doesn’t mean its going to be easy. There is a struggle. That struggle is God’s gift of repentance.
That’s why St. Luke mentions that this conversation happened during the “journey to Jerusalem.” The Cross is on the horizon. We have this invitation: come in through the way that is Jesus. The new and living way is opened for us by his coming in the flesh, by the blood that he shed for us on the cross. Christ, the everlasting Son of the Father, made upon the cross a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for your sins. The way for us sinners is no longer blocked. It is as open as the empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Christ our Savior has overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The empty tomb gives you a glimpse at what is in store for you through faith in him. Life. Resurrection life. Eternal life. The door is open! Jesus is our open door! Trust in him, trust his promises, and you will be saved. Don’t just be around Jesus, reach out! Take hold of him by faith! “Faith clings to Jesus’ Cross alone, and rests in him unceasing.” (LSB 555.9) Faith casts aside everything and anything that is not Jesus.
Having a family and friends who are Christians is a privilege. Being raised as a Christian is a privilege. But don’t assume that just because you’ve been around the church and Jesus all your life that you’re automatically in. There is nothing more tragic than being close to God’s blessings and then missing out. Instead, trust in Jesus. Today the door of salvation is open, and it is open wide. Enter in. There is a great feast waiting for you there. And you will be joining many, reclining at the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end–with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a whole multitude coming from the east and the west, the north and the south. Will you be there, seated with them at the feast of salvation? Enter through Jesus, and you will be saved.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)