In our Gospel today, someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answers, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
Why does the gate have to be narrow? If God’s arms are always wide open and ready to embrace us, why can’t the gate be opened wide so that more people can more easily pass through? Why is faith hard?
Is it so that we may learn better? I have had teachers who put me and my classmates through the wringer, and their lessons we still remember. Aside from the subject matter, we also had the values of discipline, rigor, and hard work pounded into us. But I have also had teachers who were gentler to us. Their lessons, too, have been ingrained in us – and their compassion and kindness, a source of inspiration when we reminisce about our school days. So why make things difficult?
Doesn’t Jesus claim that his yoke is easy and his burden light? I thought that he promised that he would not break the bruised reed nor snuff out the smoldering wick? Why is faith hard?
I do not know, and honestly and humbly, I admit this and accept that while on this earth, I may never know. Trials, challenges, and suffering will always be under some shadow of mystery.
But I think our many brothers and sisters who go to Quiapo to pray have tasted a sip of the answer. Their hunched shoulders betray the heavy burdens they carry, but their faces give us a glimpse of something else. How can they keep holding on to their faith when it is hard?
A friend going through a rough patch recently went to Quiapo to try to discover the well devotees must be drinking from. She waited for the crowd gathered around Christ Crucified to thin. Then, in tears, she approached the Lord and just stayed at the foot of the cross, clutching his feet. After some time, she had to blow her nose, and when she cleared her nostrils, it hit her: “Ang panghi!” It was an assault to her sense of smell. Annoyed, she looked around to see where the offensive odor was coming from. But by that time, no one else was near. The stench was coming from Jesus. Then she was in tears again: “Ang panghi mo.” It was now a great comfort to her soul. “Ang panghi mo na dahil sa amin.” Jesus is a Lord not loathe to wallow in filth if it is our filth. Hindi siya nandidiri sa atin.
We are not alone as we attempt to enter the narrow gate. Jesus is always there cramming himself in with the smelly crowd trying to squeeze through. Many times though, we may not even get a sniff of the Lord’s presence.
“Will only a few people be saved?” If you read Jesus’ reply more carefully, you will see that he does not really give a definite answer to the question. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Jesus does not also focus on who will be saved but on the striving that we have to do. And Jesus is there, striving with us, too.
I was having lunch with a young family the other day and was just watching the father help his bunso eat a hamburger. When the child bit into the meat, she realized it was too hot for her, and she quickly turned to her father and opened her mouth. The father automatically started blowing into her mouth. I saw this and received my answer to the question above. The father’s care struck me as much as the child’s trust. She did not spit out the meat. She just opened her mouth and knew that the father would be there to help. Did the father’s blowing really do anything? I do not think this brought instant relief, but because of this, the child was able to hold on.
When we find ourselves biting off more than we can chew, when we find that we just cannot swallow what life has shoved into our mouths, when keeping the faith is hard, we turn to the Father. There may not be a quick solution, but we trust that the Father is there to see us through.