Image: Village gate in Nepal
The Gospel reading today contains three short life lessons to follow on the way to a holy life. I think it makes sense to reflect on them in reverse order.
On a trip to Nepal last fall I had the chance to do a long hike through the Annapurna range of the Himalayan mountains. One of the interesting features of the trek, besides the beautiful, natural scenery, was the small villages scattered along the only road that coursed through the mountain valley. At the entrance to each village there was a large stone archway and on each side of the arch, embedded in the solid walls, were prayer wheels ranging in number from just a few to dozens, depending on the size of the village. These wheels were meant to be spun by travelers as they passed and a prayer offered on each wheel, like moving our fingers across the beads of a rosary.
It may be that, for a first-time visitor, the gates and wheels made a greater impression than they would have for the average Nepalese villager, but the point remained the same. These monuments were a very public statement of faith and the desire to have only good things enter their village, with the intent that the community’s daily life be influenced in a positive way by the prayers and the good will of those who entered.
In our culture we have a similar gate, a place which, upon passing, we are always on our best behavior. It is the door of our church. As we enter, we bless ourselves with holy water and sit quietly in the pew. For an hour we listen to holy words and are fed by sacred food and then we go back out into the world leaving the gate behind us.
Jesus talks about entering by the narrow gate, but what if the gate were not just at the door of churches but instead placed at the entrance of our community as they are in the mountains of Nepal? In fact, what if instead of an hour inside the gate one day a week we could live our lives as if we were in that inner sanctum all the time and that the idea of entering a holy place was more about living a holy life.
It is from this thought that the other lessons fall easier into place. A community life tends to revolve around our interactions with one another. The quality of our daily life is so affected by; our commute to work if we live in the city, our encounters with our neighbours, our trips to the store, the people we meet in the street. In each one of these cases we are influenced by, and can influence, these encounters. If we are inside the gate, in that place where we are trying to live a holy life, we can be more patient, more compassionate, more understanding with those we meet. We will treat people in a way that we would like to be treated. In our own small way, we could make our community a better place to live.
Not everyone will respond with good favor to our attempts. Jesus reminds us that some people are just in a different place than we are at the moment, perhaps they are still looking for the gate. Do not let them drag you outside, reach out if you can and try to guide them, but if they are not ready you can pray for them and be there for when they are.
There is a lot going on in our lives and much of it is out of our control. What we do have control of is the choices we make about what kind of person we want to be and how we treat others. Live inside the gate, choose to live a life which is holy and pleasing to the Lord.