"I have not come to bring peace, but division."
One of the greatest longings of our world is peace. Many, in many corners of the world, are anxiously waiting for the "peace builders", those who mediate conflicts. The history of Christianity has in its memory men and women who have given their lives for peace.
However, conflicts and divisions arise where we least expect it: Couples known to us who had a stable life, then we see them separate. Fathers and mothers who, when they want to educate their children for good, find opposition and rejection because their children think otherwise. We see the conflicts and differences that exist in the workplace environments.
The writings in the New Testament clarify the life and mission of Jesus. Far from seeing Jesus as someone who brings peace, understood as tranquility without conflict, they insist that the life and mission of Jesus provokes divisions for what he proposes contradicts everything that sustains the aging world. Understanding the teacher in this way, believers are invited to explore the contradictions and rejections that come with our decision to follow him. Trusting that by following him we enter the way to salvation.
The important thing is to know how many will be saved. What matters is to live with a lucid and responsible attitude to accept the salvation of the good God. Jesus reminds us all: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." Salvation is not the privilege of a chosen few.
Jesus criticizes the people of his generation because they do not go beyond their desires, they do not perceive the presence of the Kingdom among themselves. To strive to enter through the narrow gate means that there is much to do from our capabilities and possibilities for our own salvation.
To accept the salvation of God we need to imitate the Father, trust in his forgiveness. Jesus does not lower his demands: "Be merciful as your Father is merciful"; "Do not judge and you shall not be judged"; "Forgive seventy times seven, as your Father"; "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
To understand correctly the invitation to "enter through the narrow gate", we need to remember Jesus words that we can read in the Gospel of John: "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved" (John 10,9).
To those engaged in the dynamic of the kingdom of God, looking for a more humane and fraternal world, Jesus reminds them that the acceptance of the poor and homeless shall come before selfish relationships and the search for prestige.
In the kingdom … no one occupies the first places, not on their own right or by courtesy. Those, who did not even dare to dream to take part in the banquet of the Father, are the honored guests. "The last shall be first, and the first shall be last".
We are so far away from the Spirit of Jesus that, at times, even friendship and family love are marked by selfishness. We should not deceive ourselves. This road almost always is hard and difficult. It is necessary to learn things like these: giving without expecting much, forgiving without demanding, being patient with unpleasant people, and helping thinking only about the good of the other.
It is always possible to trim our own interests, to give up once in a while some of our own advantages, to bring some joy to those in need, give some of our time without always saving it for ourselves, and collaborate in small free services.
Jesus dares to tell the Pharisee who had invited him, "Blessed are you if you are not paid". This beatitude has been so forgotten that many Christians have never heard of it. However, it contains a message dear to Jesus: "Blessed are those who live for others without reward. The Father in heaven will reward you".
People of faith of all times know that the authentic Christian life is one of renunciation. The reasons for this renunciation are in that human beings are tempted to settle for little, with appearances of happiness. The invitation to the Kingdom is an ambitious offer, one of greater human fullness. But all the attractive mediocrities trap us and we end up living for more superficial ideals that make us less human.
At one end there is the Kingdom, the full human realization; at the other end is failure, dehumanization. In the middle, there is the Spirit, encouraging, blowing, awakening, and inviting… always more.
Jesus knows this is a very radical dilemma. The human being can realize itself or it can fail. That is why Jesus’ statements are radical.
This is the wisdom of the parables of Jesus: do not waste your life; you are much more than all of that; the Spirit invites you to much more.
It is not to leave all behind to see if I can find Jesus and his Kingdom, but to find Him and participate in His joy, so that the value of the other things pales and even disappears.
It is not the renunciation first to get to the joy; it is the joy of the encounter first, and from there arises the renunciation… that now is not something negative but rather the beginning of a new life.
Father Flores is director of the migrant ministry of the Diocese of Rochester.