Fulton Sheen said there would be many surprises in Heaven. One of those surprises would be to find people we never thought would be there, and another to find that those we thought would be there were actually missing. Nothing should be taken for granted, neither in this life nor in regards to Heaven. The idea that comes to mind is the American dream which is “a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work”. According to James Adams, in the American Dream is enshrined the national intention and desire that life should be better, richer, and fuller for everyone, with equal opportunity according to ability or achievement irrespective of social class or circumstances of birth. As long as one is an American, this dream is thrust upon him/her to pursue and achieve – according to one’s ability; it is not a given. It is something that has to be worked at. There are persons born into this great nation of freedom and opportunity, who feel their birth certificate guarantees them the best life they imagine or dream. Just like children born with silver spoons in their mouths, they sit around and squander opportunities that life thrusts upon them through bad choices and lifestyles that saturate the senses even as it stunts the growth of the soul. Others, in search of greener pastures, arrive from far and near to this land of promise and apply themselves assiduously to realize the dream of this country: that everyone can have a better life!
You can understand how Jesus feels about the question asked him: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” (Luke 13:22)). His feeling is expressed in his response. First, he makes it clear that being born an Israelite or being a Christian does not automatically mean one is going to Heaven; one has to enter through the narrow gate. Jesus describes himself as the gate, and anyone who enters by him will have life (Jn. 10:9). The point is this: to experience the joy of the kingdom, the peace of Jesus, the joy of heaven, we really have to make hard choices, and follow the right path – the path of discipleship which demands commitment to truth, love and goodness. The easy way, the shortcut, the way of instant gratification and undisciplined attitude to life, leads to death. Jesus then makes the second shocking point: “and people will come from the East and the West and from the North and the South and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).
The narrow gate is the gate of sacrificial love, modeled in the life of Jesus who loved us to the point of giving his life on the cross (Jn. 3:16). It is a life of selflessness, generosity of heart, care, and putting God first in our lives. It is the way of love, of constant forgiveness, understanding, and patience with oneself and with others. It is the way of constantly paying attention to the inspirations of God, so that we can act in a way that promotes love, reconciliation, peace, kindness, understanding and community.
So, who will be in Heaven? Only God knows. But just like the American dream, all we need to do is apply ourselves to work: we follow Jesus so that we can imbibe the values he taught us and take on his single-minded obedience to the Father and his great sentiments of love and care towards our fellow man. It is indeed a narrow gate, but it leads to life because God’s grace will always be sufficient for us every step of the way (II Cor. 12:9). Spend time this week to identify the shortcuts you have been taking that are not helping you, and ask the Lord for help. God loves you and I love you all.