|This Sunday's Readings
Nations of every language shall come to see my glory.
Praise the Lord, all you nations.
Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.
People will come from north and south, east and west, and take their place in the Kingdom of God.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Today's Gospel reading is the third of three parables in chapter 13 that deal with the theme of the unexpected reversals brought by the Kingdom of God. The other two parables are about the tiny mustard seed that grows into a large tree and the small amount of yeast that makes a large batch of dough rise. All three are about the few and the many and the Kingdom of God.
As this parable opens, Luke reminds us that Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. This journey, this exodus as Luke refers to it, makes up the entire middle of the Gospel. He is teaching as he goes. A question from the crowd gives Jesus the chance to make a prophetic statement. Luke uses this question device a number of times in his Gospel. A few weeks ago, the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” led to the parable of the Good Samaritan. The question about will only a few be saved uses typical Christian language about salvation but also expresses the Jewish concern about whether everyone who calls himself a Jew is actually faithful to the covenant. This was a concern of the Pharisees.
Jesus answers that they must strive in the time remaining to enter through the narrow door because many will be trying to get in but won't be strong enough. He then moves to a parable about another door. (The translation says “gate” then “door,” but the same Greek word is used.) Once all those entering the master's house are in and he locks the door, there will be no way for others to get in. Those left outside may knock, but the master will say he doesn't know them. Unlike the Gospel reading from a few weeks ago where Jesus was teaching about prayer, and we were told to knock and the door would be opened, in this parable, the master will not open and say he does not know us. People from the north, south, east, and west will take our place inside. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets will take our place in the Kingdom of God. Those who do not make it through the narrow door will be cast out to where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.
The image of the door is replaced in the final verses of the parable with the image of the heavenly banquet. Two passages from the Book of Isaiah influence the conclusion. Isaiah 43:5-6 speaks of God bringing Israel's descendents back from the east and from the west, the north and the south. And Isaiah 25:6 speaks of the Lord providing a feast of rich foods and choice wines for all peoples on his holy mountain. The answer to the question if only a few will be saved is no. In the end, many will be saved, but many who thought they would be saved will not be saved. The parable is a prophetic warning to repentance in order to enter the kingdom.