It’s About How, Not How Many

A Synod of Bishops on the “new evangelization” is now going on in Rome. The Synod is, not surprisingly, generating a lot of blog entries and media articles on the subject.

On of those on-line pieces that I read the other day spoke of the “doctrinal confusion,” which the author described this way: “Many of our fellow Catholics look at the world this way – that broad and wide is the road that leads to heaven, and almost everyone is going that way, but narrow is the way that leads to hell, and hardly anybody is going that way.” He continued, “Of course, that is hugely problematic, as it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14: ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.'”

I think some people like to think that, in his reference to a narrow gate, Jesus meant that very few people will end up in heaven, and that most of us are on the road to perdition. Those who think that way generally also tend to think that the small number who will enter heaven consists of them and their friends and excludes the rest of us.

But I think today’s Gospel passage from Mark helps us to a better understanding of what Jesus meant in talking about the wide and narrow roads.

In today’s Gospel, when Jesus wants his disciples to understand “how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God,” he tells them that “[i]t is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the confused disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?”, Jesus replies, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

The narrow gate is not about numbers. It is not a suggestion that heaven is reserved for a few and that most will find their way to hell.

Rather, the narrow gate is about our need for God. The narrow gate is not about keeping large numbers of us out. It is about understanding that our salvation comes from God, for whom all thing are possible. We are not the author of our own salvation.

On the one hand, one can view our recognition of our need for God as a narrow gate. On the other hand, God is a gate big enough to handle all of us.