If you can be guilty by association, can you be innocent by association? Can a sycophant be swept along to glory? Let’s approach this from a different angle. The third commandment of the renowned Ten Commandments is “You shall not take the name of the Lord you God in vain.” The word “take” means “lift, carry, bear.” What God is telling his people not to do was to take up his name and bear it as if it were worthless. Don’t walk around saying you belong to God while you involve yourself in all manner of un-Godlike behaviors. You cannot sneak into God’s presence through sycophantic fawning over his name. Being an image bearer of God means honoring the name.
I think Jesus is saying much the same thing in Luke 13:22-30. As Jesus was passing through city and village teaching on his way to Jerusalem a person asked him, “Lord are a few to be saved?” There are several Jewish apocalyptic sources that claim that only a few will make it to the great banquet. Only the most pious Jews have a chance. This person on the way may be wanting Jesus’ theological discourse on the end of times. In typical Jesus fashion he answers the question with a parable. And this is different enough from Matthew 7:13-14 to at least entertain the possibility that it is a separate statement given at a different time. Really, the only similarity between the two accounts is the word narrow and the concept of many not entering in.
In our passage, Jesus begins with the concept of struggling to enter through the narrow door. The word “struggle” is often used of athletic contests. There is a human response to God’s grace. Grace does not mean an easy chair approach to heaven. We are commanded to struggle to enter. And Jesus confirms the Jewish concept of only a few entering. Many will seek but will find themselves unable to enter. And then you have what ought to be a terrifying moment when the head of the house rises up and shuts the door. And no amount of knocking and pleading will entice him to open that door. Instead the knockers hear him proclaim “I do not know where you are from.” Notice that Jesus switched to second person: “You begin to stand outside and knock; you begin to say.” Jesus draws us into the story. Picture yourself outside of the very house you long to enter; you are desperate to enter; knocking and pleading. “But we ate and drank in your presence. We heard you teach. Don’t you remember?”
And again the head of the house will say, “I do not know where you are from.” Notice that he doesn’t say, “I do not know you.” No, it is “I don’t know where you are from.” Maybe the point is that in all of their hanging out with Jesus, they never changed their citizenship; their address. Claiming to have Jesus eat in your house is not the same as changing your address to kingdom of God. They wanted to bear the name follower without actually following. Then the head of the house will add a quote from Psalm 6:8: “Depart from me, all you evildoers.” The psalmist is saying that God has heard his prayer so they had better skedaddle. It is another way of saying that the door is shut. The opportunity has closed. And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – an idiom that describes intense pain or sorrow. They will see that the big three: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all in the house banqueting it up. And they have been thrown out. Hmm. They weren’t even allowed in. How can they be cast out? These are those who thought their association as descendant from these patriarchs assured their entrance.
Then there is this gathering. Many assume that this gathering refers to the Gentiles. Maybe. But it may also refer to the great gathering of God’s people after the dispersion. And it seems to indicate a great multitude coming from every direction. Whether we are talking about Gentiles or the ingathering of Jews, the number that comes to recline at the table is small compared to the number who do not come. Verse 30 is a wandering saying; a saying Jesus utters at several different times in different settings. Some who are last will be first.
It is not enough to say you are a Christian. It is not enough to claim dining status with him. Are you following? Has your association with Jesus changed your address? Fawning all over Jesus does not save you. Where are you from? If you are a citizen of the kingdom now, the door is open to you. Now, while you walk this earth, is the time to enter the kingdom. The door stands open. Struggle to enter in. Because there is a time coming when the door will be shut. No sycophants allowed here. Change your address then.