In last week’s gospel, we heard Jesus say “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” When we hear these words, we might wonder what they mean. So many passages or phrases in the bible, written as they were so many centuries ago, seem hard to understand, or hard to apply to our own times. We may wonder what it must have been like to have been alive during the time of Jesus, to have heard him speak these words, and to understand them more clearly in their original setting.
One help in understanding the bible is by consulting a good bible commentary. In my office I have a copy of “The New Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament” (published by Liturgical Press in 2009, series editor Daniel Durken. Liturgical Press also publishes a similar commentary on the Old Testament). When I was preparing a homily for last week’s gospel, I found the following from the New Testament commentary about the “narrow gate” passage from Luke’s gospel: “The conventional city gate during this period [the period of the life of Jesus] had one wide, high central arch, flanked by two, lower narrow portals. The main arch permitted camels, carts, and goods to pass. Those who wished to enter and had no baggage trains could avoid the traffic by walking through either one of the narrow gates.”
“Applying this daily occurrence to the parable, the lesson seems to be directed to those who drag along their religious or social status, their material possessions, or their own ambitions in seeking easy access to salvation. Jesus counters this attitude by extracting a lesson from a familiar scene. Just as today those who travel light reach their destination more easily than those with much luggage, so too will those who keep their eyes and actions on salvation find the swifter path through the narrow doors.”
This is a good example of what we call “exegesis,” which is a theological term we use to describe how we interpret the bible. Good bible interpretation always looks to learn as much as possible about the what the words or phrases meant in the time of Jesus, how people at that time would have understood them, and how we might interpret them in our own time. A good bible commentary helps us to follow along. I recommend highly the New Collegeville commentary that I mention above.
One final note: St. Francis collected 440 pounds of school supplies for the Interfaith Food Shuttle a few weeks back. Many thanks to all who contributed.
Blessings on your week!