Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time August 21, 2022

  Choosing the Narrow Door

A student once asked a successful businessman what was the secret of his success. He replied that his approach could be summarized in three words: “and then some.” He said, “Early in life I learned that the difference between average people and the truly successful could be simply stated in those three words. Top people did what was expected, and then some.”


The businessman offered examples: The truly successful were considerate and kind—and then some. They met their obligations and responsibilities fairly and squarely—and then some. They were good friends and helpful neighbors—and then some. They could be counted on in an emergency—and then some.


I refer to these insights from the business world because of something Jesus says in our gospel reading today. When asked about the number of people who would be saved, Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Strive to enter through the narrow door. To me this suggests giving extra effort and going beyond the bare minimum.


Let me give you an example. During my college years I took a sociology course that studied social groups by reading modern literature. For example, the book The Godfather enabled us to study the dynamics of various subgroups in society, including the Mafia, family, business groups, police and politicians. This course was different in that there were no exams whatsoever. Instead, we were required to write three ten-page papers. Well, I really got rolling, primarily because I was truly into this course, and instead of writing three ten-page papers, I wrote three forty-five page papers! I got noticed, and my efforts opened doors for me and enabled me to get into some top-level discussions and get a better than average education. I chose the narrow door, the one of hard work, discipline and a strong desire to learn more. [Since then, I still work hard, but I have learned to stop and smell the roses!]


So, when Jesus talks about this narrow gate, or narrow door, I believe he asks us to go beyond the minimum. We are not to settle for a kind of surface-level involvement with our faith. That’s why I think the businessman’s insight can be helpful.


We find this spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. There, Jesus says things like, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the person who begs from you. Do not turn your back on the borrower….My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors….If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Do not tax collectors [those despised people] do as much? And if you greet your brothers [and sisters] only, what is so praiseworthy about that? Do not pagans do as much?”


Have you ever had to struggle with a narrow door? Like going into the toilet on an airplane without tipping over? Or getting into the seat of a compact car? It takes a lot of effort and a bit of concentration, doesn’t it?


Well, how much effort are we putting into living our faith? Think of the businessman’s advice and reflect on it: be considerate and kind—and then some; meet your obligations fairly and squarely—and then some; be good friends and helpful neighbors—and then some. In this way, our commitment to the faith will not become lukewarm. Our love for others will not yield to indifference. And our love of God will not be just a sometime thing.