Today, I would like to reflect on the same question that the disciples asked Jesus, “Will only a few people be saved?” (Luke 13:23) It is a good question. Who will be saved? In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives no direct answer to the question.
The Bible itself has no one single answer. In Matthew 25: 31-46, those who cared for the least in society are the ones who are welcomed into the eternal kingdom of the Father. Those who did not care for them are the ones who are not saved. In the Beatitudes, the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, the clean of heart, the ones who mourn, and the persecuted are the ones to whom the kingdom of God is promised (Mt 5: 1-12). In both these passages, there is no indication those who are saved are believers.
On the other hand, other scripture passages seem to suggest that it is those who have explicit faith in Jesus Christ that are saved. For example, in the gospel of John, Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In the letter to Romans, St Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Acts 2:21 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
We come back, then, to the original question of the disciples, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Are you and I going to be part of those who will be saved? My three points today are an attempt to answer this question.
We do not know the motivation for the disciples’ question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Perhaps we should begin to attempt an answer to the question with God’s original intention. God’s original intention is universal salvation. God desires that all are saved. We have an example of God’s desire for universal salvation in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. God says: “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory” (Is 66:18). From the Old Testament perspective, this means that God’s choice of Israel as God’s people was not at the cost or the exclusion of other peoples and nations.
In other words, God wishes that ALL, and not just a few, are saved. After all, we are all God’s children fashioned in God’s own image and likeness. In the New Testament, God’s desire for universal salvation is personalized in the saving mission of Jesus. The incarnation is a saving event of universal magnitude. Christ’s incarnation and mission show God’s desire the save all of creation. God’s will is for ALL to be saved.
Whereas God’s desire is that all are saved, scripture also seems to suggest that not all who believe in Jesus may find salvation. This is amply clear in today’s gospel passage. Luke suggests that when people say, “Lord, open the door for us,” the Lord’s reply will be, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” (Lk 13:26-28). In another place, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
Here is the bottom line. Although God’s original intention is for universal salvation, scripture also seems to suggest that some people have a way to exclude themselves from God’s reign. Moreover, many of those who expected to be saved may find themselves excluded.
How can make sure that we do not find ourselves in this situation? The answer lies in Jesus’ words, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate!”
Strive to Enter through the Narrow Gate
Jesus’ answer to the question, “Will only a few be saved?” was not a black-and-white answer. Jesus merely said, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate!” This is so different from the kind of answers we hear today. Some say, “You have to be born again!” Others say, “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior!” We Catholics invite others to be received into the ‘true faith’ and enter into communion with the Bread of life, Jesus Christ.
Perhaps Jesus did not answer the disciple’s question with a black and white answer, because it was the wrong question. My interpretation of Jesus’ words is that Jesus’ disciples need to have a deep realization that salvation is a free gift from God. There needs to be a realization that even after the best effort we have made, after the holiest lives we have lived, and after fulfilling all our spiritual and temporal obligations, we do not earn salvation. We do not save ourselves; God saves us.
Moreover, salvation is God’s prerogative. We do not save others; God saves them. Our concern should not be who will and will not be saved, or whether a few or many people will be saved. Rather, as Jesus proposed, our task should be to “strive to enter by the narrow gate.” This means that we do our best to live Gospel-centered lives. By living lives that point to Christ, we merely direct other people to Christ. The rest is between Christ and others.
However, there is a paradox here. When we live Gospel-centered lives, it is our lives that are transformed. When our life points to Christ, we become more and more like Christ. When people come to Christ because of our example, not only might they find salvation, but we too are saved!
In the Eucharist, Salvation Himself is present on the altar. When we receive him, let us accept Him as our gift. Let us allow Him to save us! Amen.
Image: Adobe Stock. By yosefhay.
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.