The Gospel for today (Luke 13:22-30) has Jesus fielding the question of how many people will be saved. This question most likely came up due to the arguments among the Jewish sects at the time over this same question. On one end you had the Essenes convinced that they alone would be saved, and on the other you had the Pharisees (along with most the population) who believed that pretty much all of Israel would be saved in the end.
And what was Jesus’ answer? He begins with a reminder that this question is not only a theological curiosity, but has a very practical application to each of us on a personal level. He tells them to, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” He lets us all know that the first question we each need to ask is not how many, but how about me?
There is no doubt that this passage deals with the salvation (entering through the narrow gate) of people. And we are told to “strive” to enter through the narrow gate. You may have to trust me here a little, but the Greek word used here for “strive” is “agonizomai”. This Greek word means to fight, struggle, to do with intensity and effort. According to Jesus, entering through this narrow gate is going to take some effort on our part.
Now, all the work needed for us to enter through the narrow gate was accomplished by Jesus, and there is nothing that can get us to heaven but the grace that flows from His sacrifice. Yet from Jesus’ statement above, it is obvious that this grace is not granted universally or without some fight, struggle, and effort by the one interested in passing through the narrow gate. Jesus may have opened the gate, but he expects us to enter through it.
I once told my son when he was younger to carry something up from the basement to the kitchen. He walked over, tried to pick it up, and found that it was too heavy for him to lift. He came over and asked me if I would carry it up for him because it was way too heavy for him to carry. I told him that I wouldn’t do it myself, but that I would help him. So he grabbed one end of it, and I grabbed it somewhere near the middle. Now the whole way up the stairs I can tell you that he did little if anything to help in the effort. But when we got to the kitchen and set it down, one thing was true: this item was now in the kitchen because he and I both wanted it, and were willing to do what it took to get it there.
And I would suggest that a “decision for Christ”, reciting a “sinner’s prayer”, or answering and “altar call” may be a start, but by themselves are not what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of striving. Being a true follower of Christ takes a life full of fight, struggle, and effort, not a moment of emotional response. As Laura pointed out, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is a perfect example of this. This struggle may not always be pretty, but it always has purpose.