God is for us, on our side. This can sometimes be hard to believe as we struggle with our own daily battles or as we take in today’s new terrorist horror, failed coup, refugee exodus, unarmed black man shot dead or police executed by an unhinged civilian.
God is good; this is the truth at the heart of the cosmos. This can seem impossible, betrayed by the daily doses of violence and cruelty. Goodness seems soft and weak, while wickedness is hard and powerful, the true way to get things done. Hard things, like waterboarding, wars and the expulsion of immigrants, are considered real; soft things, like the rhetoric of peace from Pope Francis, is an illusion, just lofty, religious nonsense. The world tempts us to consider evil more real than the good, but it is a lie, the schemes of the deceiver to frighten us from the truth.
God promised Isaiah, “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory.” This prophetic word speaks to God’s goodness and salvation, which is intended for all people.
Christians sometimes forget that the universality of God’s salvation was not the innovation of a new religion but was embedded in the promises made to the Jewish people. Abraham’s covenant with God included the assurance that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Psalm 117, the shortest psalm, shares with numerous other psalms the promise that God’s salvation, manifested especially in God’s hesed (“steadfast love”) and emet (“faithfulness”) to the people of Israel, will be offered to all the nations. Isaiah says that God’s glory will be brought “to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.”
The reality of God’s goodness and salvation must be stressed especially in times of chaos, when violence seems the true coin of the realm. But violence only pays to open wide the doors to counterfeit kingdoms. God’s kingdom offers another way, the narrow door. This narrow door does not mean that only a few are offered entrance but only that the narrow path must be chosen.
When he was asked, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Jesus responded with a story. Not all who want to enter through the narrow door will be able to enter, Jesus says, not even those who knock at the door. They will ask to be let in, but Jesus says that he will not know them, even if they ate and drank with him or listened to his teaching. In this parable, the evildoers will be sent away. Presumption plays a part in those who believe that they ought to be offered entrance through the narrow door because of who they are and not because of how they have lived their lives, for Jesus offers an image of the messianic banquet with “Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.”
Those “thrown out” assumed they ought to be there, but Jesus says the kingdom of God will be full of surprises. Those who are present “will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Anybody, from any corner of the earth, can walk the path to the narrow door. And that is Jesus’ enigmatic answer to “Will only a few be saved?”
God’s path is intended for all peoples, and people from every nation, including those we consider “last,” can respond positively to God’s word, can knock on the door of the kingdom of God and gain entrance. It also is an image of the truth and power of goodness. God’s way is for all humanity and the narrow door awaits all who seek it. Bombs and guns, murder and violence mark humanity as the stain of sin, not as the destiny for which we are intended. The way of God’s goodness leads to a narrow door, but it is a door that we can all begin journeying to now, knowing that God is for us, walking with us.