THEME: Discipline, the Narrow Gate, and Salvation

BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.



The background of our second reading from the Book of Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13) is the privileges and responsibilities of the family heir in the ancient world. In the ancient world, heirs (people who had the right to inherit family property) not only got to keep their family property, but their parents also trained them well so that they would be ready to carry on their family’s legacy. In 1 Kings 21:3, Naboth says that he will not sell his “ancestral inheritance.”

Then, if a child is not well behaved or well trained by his parents, especially his father, people may think that the child is an “illegitimate” child of his parents. By the way, no child is illegitimate. So, the so-called “illegitimate” child will not get the rights and responsibilities of the real heirs of the family, who are the “legitimate” children. So, they may argue, what is the point of investing time and resources in his formation?

“Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:8-13).

It is against this background that the Book of Hebrews makes this bold statement, “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges” (12:5).

Simply put, “discipline” is the study and application of a set of standards to oneself. So, to be disciplined means that you have studied and decided to follow a certain way of life on purpose so that you can achieve certain goals. Discipline, despite the pain or discomfort it may cause in the short term, is an act of love in the long run. It is a sign of genuine parental love, and no corrective discipline from people we care about is done without a purpose.

God is our father, and we are God’s children. Saint Paul writes, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). Because God loves us, he disciplines us through the teachings of his son, Jesus, his Church, and those he has placed in our lives, particularly our parents and guardians.

Saint Paul, writing to the Romans (8:29), says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ does not come ready-made overnight without self-discipline and habituated patterns of action and work. So, it is an illusion to think that becoming a Christian is a cheap way to make life easier. It demands lots of sacrifice, delayed gratification, and self-discipline.

In Genesis 25:19–34, for instance, we read the story of Esau and his twin brother, Jacob. Esau was born first and thereby became the legal heir to the family birthright. His birthrights included a double share of his father’s inheritance; a priestly position; judicial power in the family; and being the heir to the Covenant between God and Abraham, which was the line from which the Promised Messiah would come.

One day, when Esau was out in the fields and came inside, his twin brother, Jacob, was making stew. When Esau requested the stew, Jacob cunningly said, “Sell me your birthright now” (Genesis 25:31). Esau made a dramatic statement to Jacob about how useless the birthright would be if he died of hunger.

So, Esau swore to Jacob his birthright, and Jacob gave his brother bread and lentil stew. In this way, Esau sold his birthright and lost his blessings for soup because he chose a temporary pleasure over a long-term blessing. Esau was not self-disciplined.

Dear Friends, like Esau, God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). It is also true that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), but we need to be disciplined so that the plans of God in our lives, plans to make us prosper and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11), may come to pass because our enemy, the devil, is prowling round looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

In our gospel passage (Luke 13:22–30), someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus didn’t say that only a few would be saved or that all would be saved. Instead, Jesus responded, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:24).

By narrow, Jesus means “exclusive.” Jesus is the one and only way to God. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Accordingly, those who reject Jesus and his teachings miss this narrow gate.

Unfortunately, the “wide gate” is one of those false gods that tend to promise us temporary happiness and gratification. They seem easy, and as a result, many choose them. But they lead to destruction. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13).

Dear friends, if there is one word that catches the hidden meaning of “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:24), it is “discipline.” Discipleship requires discipline, and the only way to enter the narrow gate and be saved is through discipline, which means accepting Jesus as our master and living according to what he teaches and continues to teach through his Church and those who are placed over us.

Today, please choose discipline and the narrow gate and you will be saved. Happy Sunday!

Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.
Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 21, 2022


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