Daily Deaths

Follow The Leader

Strive to enter by the narrow door
Luke 13:22-30

Daily Deaths

In this Gospel, Jesus is asked the question, “Lord, will those who are to be saved be few?” Jesus’ reply is puzzling to most Scripture scholars and theologians. one eminent Biblical expert describes it as “Bizarre — full of inconsistencies, confusing words, and hidden insinuations.” This serves to remind us that even the most learned scholars do not completely understand all that is written in the Bible. Nevertheless, there can be no misunderstanding, among scholars or non-scholars, that the opening sentence in Jesus’ answer is clear and unambiguous.

“Lord will those who are to be saved be few?” Jesus’ answer begins with an instruction. “Strive to enter by the narrow door,” He says (Lk. 23-24). The narrow door. What in heaven and on earth does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means! Moreover, there’s nothing bizarre about it, nothing confusing about it, and it’s totally consistent with our overall understanding of the New Testament Good News Message.

“Follow Me,” Jesus said to His Disciples of old and to His disciples through the Ages. “Follow Me,” Jesus is saying to us now. “Follow Me through the narrow door. Do what I have done! Live as I have lived! I came to do the Will of MY Father! I came not to be served but to serve!” (Mt. 20:28).

Follow Me! Follow Me through that narrow door! And whatever is happening to you, bad as it may seem, however unhinged you may be feeling, even if the whole world seems to be closing in on you, believe Me when I tell you that nothing happens to you outside the scope of God’s concern! Follow Me through that narrow door and experience the joy of being able to say with conviction, “The Father loves me; right now, He loves me. Even though I am now feeling the crush of unwelcome events, the Father loves me.”

To the Church in Corinth, Paul wrote of his own personal “narrow door” experience:

We are treated as impostors and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well-known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything (II Cor. 6:8-10).

Newspapers carried a most unusual story a few years ago about a man who attended his own funeral. No detail was overlooked by him in making arrangements. The clergy, the undertaker, and the florist were all carefully prepared. Then, on the appointed day, he attended his own funeral.

Just imagine being a mourner at your own graveside. Certainly a lot of people would consider this man to be a little flaky. Surely, no one in his right mind would do such a thing. Nevertheless, there is a touch of sanity about it. Jesus said that in order to save our life we have to lose it. In order to enter into the fullness of life — “Christ-life” — we need to attend a whole series of funerals of our lesser selves. In order to enter into the “big life” we need to die the “little deaths.”

The truth of the Christian Gospel can be stated in the form of a paradox: we live by dying. “I die daily,” said the Apostle Paul. And, in Jesus’ own words, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Jn. 12:24).

One of the reasons Christians gather each week for celebration is to remember the Resurrection Event: to look back on this incredible thing that happened to Jesus of Nazareth and to realize that it is a continuing experience in the life of the Christian Community; to realize that God’s Resurrection Power is experienced in our own death as well as in the death of Jesus. We are all going to die, every one of us. We are moving toward death with each passing moment. The people we love are going to die. One of the most unfortunate things about modern civilization is the unwillingness to face this honestly and openly. We say, “Let’s change the subject; it’s too morbid.” We don’t want to talk about it. We try to hide it. We try to repress it. But try as we may, it continues on a subconscious level to tear us apart.

At this very moment, each of us is dying, partially. But the God who created us is creating a Resurrection body for us. We will move into the next life in the Resurrection body, and death will be transformed into life, despair into joy. This is what Resurrection means in terms of our own death.

But that’s only part of the story. God’s Resurrection Power works not only in and through our final death but also through our daily deaths. Every day there is a process of death and resurrection going on. We are all going through all kinds of daily deaths and, in them, the Resurrection Power of God is working to give us new life: greater freedom, greater joy, deeper hope.

Husbands and wives know that marriages go through periods of death; that certain things in marriage are outgrown and left behind and are no longer useful; that a new kind of relationship comes into being within the marriage, a new understanding between the marriage partners. But the process often is painful. Moving from death to resurrection can be very hard for the people involved. But, whether the process calls for the resurrection of a good relationship or the dissolution of a destructive one, God’s Resurrection Power is always present in that situation, and the healing comes when we allow ourselves to experience this Presence.

There is a book called “The Magic of Three Days” in which the author sums up everything we’ve been saying in a simple, beautiful little story:

It was a beautiful Spring day, and a sense of peace stayed with me as I left the Cathedral on Easter Monday morning. I paused for a moment on top of the steps leading to the avenue, now crowded with people rushing to their jobs. Sitting in her usual place inside a small archway was the old flower-lady. At her feet, corsages and boutonnieres were neatly arranged on top of a spread-open newspaper.

The flower lady was smiling, her wrinkled old face alive with some inner joy. I started down the stairs. Then, on an impulse, I turned and picked out a flower.

As I put it in my lapel, I said, “You look happy this morning.”

“Why not? Everything is good,” she replied.

The flower lady was dressed so shabbily and seemed so very old that her reply startled me.

“You’ve been sitting here for many years now, haven’t you?” I asked. “And always smiling. You wear your troubles well,” I added.

“You can’t reach my age and not have troubles,” she replied. “Only it’s like Jesus and Good Friday …” (She paused for a moment).

“Yes?” I prompted.

“Well, when Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, that was the worst day for the world. And when I get troubles I remember that, and then I think of what happened only three days later. Easter and Our Lord rising. So when I get troubles, I’ve learned to wait three days…somehow everything gets all right again.”

She smiled goodbye, and her words still follow me whenever I think I have troubles….”Give God a chance to help!…Wait three days.”

“Strive to enter by the narrow door,” says the Lord. “And never fear, you’ll not lose your way. I’ll be with you, leading the way. Follow the Leader! Follow Me!”

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