According to the Old Testament, the dispersed tribes of Israel became a nation when they left Egypt and were given the Ten Commandments by Moses. God chose this particular nation as his own. God did this for a purpose: Israel would show God’s wisdom and love to the other nations; Israel would have brought the light of true faith in one, invisible God to the nations worshipping false, hand-made idols. Israel was given the Law that might have helped them to become a holy nation. Unfortunately Israelites began to isolate themselves, claiming to be better than others. Eventually their religion turned into a bond keeping Israelites together against foreign influences. They were certain that only some of them could be saved. This opinion reflects in the question in today’s gospel: “Sir, will there be only a few saved?”
A new impulse was necessary to spread the knowledge of God. That was Christianity. Initial enthusiasm and a simple message were something that convinced many people and found the way to their hearts. The new religion widely spread within all the Roman Empire. But gradually Christianity was becoming more and more established; its simple message was becoming hidden in theological and philosophical explanations; its simplicity (“love God and love your neighbour”) was covered over by more and more detailed rules and laws. Missionary eagerness survived with some particular people or religious orders. Christianity sometimes was in contradiction with its fundamental message: crusades in the Middle Ages and religious wars in Europe in XVI and XVII centuries. A common driving force for many Christian leaders was hatred towards other Christian denominations joined with contempt, superiority and certainty that only our followers will be saved.
Today’s gospel calls us to re-discover the simplicity of Christian life and belief. Salvation is not a matter of a formal religious affiliation; it doesn’t depend even on fulfilling some religious rituals. Listen again: “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets”. This sounds like a short description of mass at which we attend. What is the reply to that claim? “I don’t know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men”. In the famous vision of the Last Judgment in St Matthew’s gospel there is no single question about religious affiliation or fulfilling religious rituals. There are just questions concerning active love of others: “I was hungry, thirsty, naked… and you gave me food, drink; you clothed me… what you did to the least of my brothers you did for me…”. Simple. Nothing complicated. We need religion as long as it helps us to be endure and patient in doing good works. If we don’t, we waste our time and needlessly bother God. Jesus alerts us in today’s gospel saying: “Try your best to enter by the narrow gate”. The same message we hear in every mass: “This is my body […] given up for you; this is my blood […] shed for you; do this – do the same – in memory of me”.