The Narrow Gate

I suspect that most of us ponder the question Jesus is asked in our gospel this weekend; “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answers by telling them to strive to enter through the narrow gate. We know that this earthly life is intended to get us ready for eternal life with God in heaven.  But will I get to heaven? The image Jesus uses of the narrow gate offers us a way to think about how the actions and decisions we make each day set us on a path to eternal life or set us on a path that could lead us in another direction.

My friend Emily has a son who just completed his basic training for the United States Marine Corps. Michael graduated from high school two years ago and went right into a two-year program to learn auto repair. He did well in his program. He went to school in the morning and worked at an auto repair center in the afternoon. He set himself on a path to have a good career doing something he really enjoyed. But Michael wanted a challenge!

Michael approached his mother early in the new year and announced his desire to enter the Marine Corps. Emily was devastated. She wondered how she would manage without Michael living in their home. They had a close mother-son relationship, and he spent most of his free time at home with the family. Michael began preparations to enter the military by spending time working out with his military recruiter and learning all that he could about the branch of service called the Marines.

Michael entered his military service in May. It was the first of days filled with tears, sadness, and worry for my friend, Emily. She wrote letters to Michael—sometimes two a day.  She waited anxiously for his letters back to her. She wondered if he was surviving this new experience. Emily was aware that not everyone comes through basic training.  Would Michael be one of those rejected by the corps and sent home?

Recently, Emily began sharing with me about the final test of basic training in the Marine Corps. It is a test of strength, will, and courage called “the crucible.” The crucible is a 56-hour exercise in which the recruits must work as a team to execute an exercise of physical and mental challenges on limited sleep and with limited food. Each recruit must succeed in making it through the crucible in order to stand with their platoon on graduation day and receive the honor of being called a Marine.

Michael and his platoon succeeded in executing the crucible. The exercise culminates in a 6-mile hike up a steep, mountain-like hill where, at sunrise, the men are given something to eat. They receive congratulations from their drill instructor and a pin to memorialize their success.

Jesus tells us that those who wish to enter heaven must enter through the narrow gate. Jesus also told us that our earthly life would include suffering, but that he would be with us through every trial. Those trials in our lives are like the crucible exercise that every Marine must master. God allows some suffering, or even sends certain people or events into our lives, in order to help us become stronger and more reliant on our God, during difficult times. We will each live our own crucible in this life. It may be a time of sickness, or grief, or loss. It is in these times of testing that we must turn our hearts to God for help.

Every Marine knows the motto of the Marine Corps, “no soldier left behind.” For Michael, and for those in his platoon, it was not an option for anyone to fail the crucible exercise. Each recruit was prepared to carry one of his fellow recruits, if necessary, so that all could stand proudly on that hill together to receive the rewards of their hard work. In our life of faith, we can be sure that Jesus wants no man, woman, or child left behind. Our loving God wants each of us to be with him in heaven forever. We will face challenges small and large in our earthly life. We have no way to know what those challenges will be, or how we will make it through them. We do know that God never gives up on us, and he promises to be with us until the end of the age.

Let us never be discouraged or lose hope in our eternal salvation. God is with us, and he gives us everything we need to achieve our life’s goal: eternity in heaven with God! Let us strive to enter through the narrow gate that leads to the doorway of heaven.

In Christ,

Deacon Tim

 

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