In the best seller "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey states that one habit of effective leaders is that they "begin with the end in mind." If we apply this principle to Jesus' teaching in today's Gospel, we arrive at some insights into what he may have been alluding to and it's import for the life of discipleship.
Today's Gospel opens with Jesus being asked, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" He responds to this question in typical cryptic style by issuing the "answer": "Strive to enter the narrow Gate, for many will try to enter but will not be strong enough," Rather than dealing with this question directly, I believe it is very fruitful to go to the end of Jesus' teaching in order to "acquire" the keys to unlock the gate and open up it's meaning for us.
Working in "backwards fashion", the three important "keys" are the following statements of Jesus: "some who are first will be last and some who are last will be first," "and people will come from the east and the west and the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God", and, finally, "and there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out." Let's look briefly at each of these statements in turn.
The first two statements are foundational and very common themes to the Gospel writer, Luke. The first statement, "some who are first, etc...." deals with the theme of "divine reversal": Luke's experience and conviction that God is "turning the tables" and bringing salvation to those in most desperate need of it (the poor, outcast, sinner) while withdrawing the offer to those who are deceitfully rich and oppressively powerful. This statement powerfully attests to God's preferential regard for the poor. The second statement refers to Luke's theme of God's universal will to save: people of all stripes, colors, and convictions will find room at the banquet table of fellowship and love that is God's Kingdom. Finally, the reference to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets is key because all of these persons actively embraced God's call and lived out the implications of this calling to the full.
Now that we have these three important keys in hand, let's start "unlocking" the meaning of the narrow gate! It's extremely important to note that the gates along the wall of Ancient Jerusalem were very often quite intricate, fortified, and served a number of purposes (see the picture above). Many were very definitely NOT mere passageways. While much could be said about the gate itself, what is important for our purposes is that they were places of important gatherings of civic leaders, judges, and civilians. In other words, they were places of deliberation, tension, confrontation, and decision.
Considering the important fact that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and would likely pass through the narrow gate himself, the following interpretation seems warranted: to enter the narrow gate connotes a very active mode of discipleship. It means bringing the news of God's "universal" saving will and special regard for the poor to the very heart of the world: those places of deliberation, tension, confrontation, and decision. In short, it means "putting one's self out there" for the sake of others and actively engaging the important issues of our day (especially as they concern the poor). Ultimately, those who find themselves "locked outside the Kingdom" in today's Gospel are judged by their own words; they ate and drank in the company of the Lord and were present at his teachings, but they didn't follow him through the narrow gate of "active engagement": putting one's faith in direct service of others and the life of the world. Pat, TOR