Consider Luke 13: 22-30
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
What is the assumption of the person who asks if few will be saved? Aren’t they really asking: “Will others be saved, besides us?” Hear the question from the traditional Hebrew/Jewish mindset at the time, which was that only the Hebrew/Jewish people or gentiles who had converted, would be saved. When thinking of the rest of the known gentile world at the time, the assumed answer here is probably: “Correct, only a few.”
But such is not what we hear. We hear of a reversal of fortunes. We are reminded again, of the subversive nature of the gospels. In answering the question, Jesus doesn’t immediately address numbers/quantities but something altogether different. We are told to strive for something. It’s not something that comes easily; it’s something we must work toward. What are we to strive for? Entering a narrow door. But what is the door?
I believe the “door” is a way of understanding and being. The understanding, I believe, is this: Many will be saved. In fact, there are Christians who believe all will be saved eventually, which is what I tend to believe. Putting that aside, the door acts, I believe, as a metaphor for a certain sensibility toward those outside our orbit, our “in-group.”
What this understanding should generate then is a way of being—a way of living that communicates a generosity of spirit and hospitality toward those outside our particular orbit, whether ethnicity, nation, religion, culture, philosophy, etc.
We tend to read the word “narrow” and assume it means few will be saved. What we are to strive against, rather, is a narrow understanding of salvation—a narrowness of mind. The narrow door is a wide, generous, and hospitable view of salvation. But such a view is something we strive for, because our nature seems bent toward viewing salvation as limited to our group, our tribe, “us,” only—the “few.”
When we think only our tribe or group, will be saved, we are brought up short by these verses (indeed, the entire gospel narrative). We are told that, “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” But who are these, “many?” We too often focus on the word “few” when we need to focus on the “many” noted here.
These are the “many” who ate and drank in the presence of Christ. They were present during his teaching. They saw him and he saw them. Jesus was on “their” streets. The gentiles, the entire rest of the non-Jewish world outside Israel are the other “streets.” The “others,” those outside the covenant, are those from east and west, north and south.
The “many” then, which I believe is more a particulate view of salvation than something numerical, are those who just assume they are saved while also assuming most others are not. They assume they are saved because they are part of the in-group.
In other words, when Jesus says, “…when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out,” the “you yourselves,” are the Jewish people (his audience here) who trust in their ethnicity, their history, and their religious narrative/theology. They (we?) do this, all the while, assuming everyone outside those boundaries will end up in a place of, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus problematizes here the words “many” and “few” and subverts their meanings if we try and use them in a prideful and confident manner. He suggests it is those who assume themselves to be the “few” who should ponder their own salvation rather than wondering if the “many” out there, the many not like themselves, will be saved.
What we see then, is a total reversal here of that type of thinking—the strict binary of lost and saved. It might be those who see themselves as part of the few, as part of the “saved,” who may end up being last and in a place they never expected.
How would this apply in our own day? How would this apply to those traditions that see the world in complete and total binaries of lost or saved, black or white, either/or? What traditions today see themselves as the “few” who will be saved, while most, the “many” will be lost?
In my opinion, it is those traditions and that mentality to which these verses speak. Perhaps, especially at this time of year, we should ponder anew this proclamation:
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people [emphasis added]. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” -Luke 2
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