Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother";, this is the first commandment with a promise: "so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Servants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are servants or free.
And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
We might feel two opposite responses to today's readings. On the one hand, the way to salvation does not seem too difficult, especially when, as St Paul says "all things work together for our good," or as in Ephesians our normal human relationships can continue, with patience, reverence and honesty. But then, when we turn to the gospel we get the opposite impression, that eternal life is so elusive that it almost seems foolish to try to attain it. We are left to puzzle at the enigmatic one-liner, "Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last."
Luke may give us the clue for harmonizing these twin poles. We listen again to these tough-sounding words: Try to come in through the narrow door. Many will try to enter and be unable. Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last . Is the Lord saying that in each of us there are hidden impulses which move us towards salvation? Right now we may overlook them or even try to silence them, crowd them out with activities and distractions, excuses and arguments. Perhaps, "the narrow door" which leads us to a new, transformed existence is some niggling inspiration or other: to forgive someone who has hurt or wronged us; help a neighbour or relative in their old age or sickness; dedicate some of our time to prayer and in reflection. A decision that seems small, may also turn my life around. What I had put in last place in my scale of values, now appears first; my former first concerns now take last place.
Ephesians may seem far away from Jesus' proverbial remarks, by clearly stating the obvious about everyday ethics, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Parents, do not anger your children. Servants, obey your human masters. Masters, stop threatening your servants." Yet, Paul adds some qualifying remarks: Parents are to train their children in a way befitting the Lord. Servants are to show their masters "the sincerity you owe to Christ." And each one, servant or master, "will be repaid by the Lord." These qualifiers transform the letter into specifically Christian counsel. Again what seems accidental gives new direction, and what hardly seems to matter turns out to be the "narrow door" that leads to salvation.
When his listeners asked questions of Jesus he generally responded to them. But sometimes he is shown not responding to a question. An example is at the beginning of today's gospel when someone asks, 'Will only a few be saved?' Jesus refuses to respond directly to that kind of speculation, 'How many will be saved?' Instead he invites people to strive to enter by the narrow door. Jesus implies that the way to salvation, fullness of life, requires effort on our part, just as entering through a narrow door requires a certain focus and concentration.
Still, the narrowness of the door need not imply that only a few will get through it. In fact, at the end of the gospel Jesus says that people from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Beyond the door there is a vast multitude. There is an implicit answer there to the question, 'Will only a few be saved?' Jesus says, 'No, not a few, but many.' Yet, that broad hospitality of God, Jesus implies, is not a reason for complacency. We still have to strive to enter by the narrow door, and we do that by following behind Jesus, walking in his way, hearing God's word and keeping it, as he did.