"Lord, Will Those Who Are Saved Be Few?"

Pontifical-Household Preacher on a Key Question

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is the commentary by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher for the Pontifical Household, of the Gospel passage for this Sunday’s liturgy, Luke 13:22-30, in which someone asks Jesus: «Lord, will those who are saved be few?»

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There is a question which the faithful have always asked themselves: Are there many or few who will be saved? In certain periods this problem became so acute that it caused terrible anguish in some people. The Gospel tells us that one day this problem was posed to Jesus. «A person asked him: ‘Lord, is it true that only a few are saved?'» The question, as can be seen, refers to the number: how many are saved, many or few? Jesus changed the center of attention from the number to how it is possible to be saved, that is, the need to enter by «the narrow door.»

It is the same attitude manifested when addressing the topic of Christ’s last coming. The disciples asked him when the Son of Man would return and Jesus replied by indicating how one must prepare for this return [see Matthew 24:3-4].

Jesus’ way of acting is neither strange nor discourteous. It is simply the behavior of one who wishes to educate the disciples to pass from the level of curiosity to authentic wisdom, from the pointless questions that excite people to the real problems of life. From this we are able to understand the absurdity of those, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, who even think they know the exact number of the saved: 144,000.

This number, which appears in Revelation, has a merely symbolic value (the square of 12, the number of the tribes of Israel, multiplied by 1,000) and is explained in this expression: «a great multitude which no man could number» [Revelation 7:9]. After all, if that is really the number of the saved, then we could spare ourselves the effort, we and they. On the door of paradise the sign «Full» should have been written long ago, as at the entrance of some parking lots.

If, therefore, Jesus is not interested in revealing to us the number of the saved, but rather the way to be saved, let us see what he has to say in this regard. Essentially two things: one negative and the other positive.

The first, what is worthless, and the second what is useful to be saved. The fact of belonging to a specific people, race, tradition or institution is not useful to be saved. Nor does the possession of a title lead to salvation — «We have eaten and drunk with thee» — but a personal decision, followed by coherent conduct in life.

This is even clearer in Matthew’s text, which contrasts two ways and two gates, one narrow and the other wide [see Matthew 7:13-14]. Why does he call these two ways, respectively, «wide» and «narrow»? Is the way of evil always easy and pleasing, and that of good hard and exhausting? We must be careful here, not to fall into the typical temptation of believing that everything goes magnificently well here for the wicked while, on the contrary, everything goes wrong for the good.

The way of the impious is wide, yes, but only at the beginning. The more they progress on it, the more it becomes narrow and bitter. In any case, it is extremely narrow at the end, as it leads to a dead end. The happiness experienced in it goes diminishing as it is experienced, until it becomes nauseous and sad.

There can be a certain kind of inebriation, as with drugs, alcohol and sex. An ever-stronger dosage is necessary to produce the same intense pleasure until the organism ceases to respond, and then comes the collapse, emotional and also physical.

The way of the just, on the contrary, is narrow at the beginning, but then becomes wide, as they find hope, joy, and peace of heart on it. It leads to life, not death.

[Italian original published in the magazine Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]

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