It’s all about the Master. That is Jesus’ answer. The door is narrow. Many will not enter. But those who do, who are welcomed to the feast, will come from every direction. What makes the difference? Who brings them in? Who opens (and shuts) the door? The Master.
This week’s Gospel reading begins with a question. Luke does not tell us who asked it. But it’s a good question. “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
The questioner in the text was probably asking about the people of Israel. There seems to have been debate about which behaviors among God’s people would result in loss of salvation, and it is possible the questioner had this debate in mind. This would also make sense within the context in Luke’s Gospel. He has been highlighting the increasing opposition between Jesus and the Jewish leaders (see verse 28, and also verses 34-35), which would reach its climax when Jesus finally finished his journey to Jerusalem.
But the question still stands. How many will be saved?
Jesus doesn’t answer it directly. Instead, he focuses attention on the Master. The people who are excluded, who are “evil” (verse 27), were not known by the Master. Twice the Master says he does not know where they come from, even though they ate together and listened to him teach (verse 26). Rather than answering whether the number will be few, Jesus points to the one who grants salvation. It is worth noting, both for theological and homiletical purposes, that the Greek word translated “evil” in verse 27 is ἀδικίας. Literally, the excluded ones are “un-righteous.”
The closest Jesus comes to answering the question is verse 29. He does not say how many will be saved, but those who are saved will come from every direction. This reminds us that no single people group has a monopoly on access to the Master. Through (and sometimes despite) us, God is reaching out to all nations. There can be no circling the wagons with the Gospel. The Old Testament reading is strong on this theme.
The final verse (30) stands as a warning against all who presume to have priority before the Master, and a source of hope to all who are far off at this time. Some who are first will be last, and some who are last will be first.
A sermon on this text should be careful not to answer the question Jesus doesn’t answer. It is an important question, to be sure. All Christians ask it at one time or another. They ask it as they wonder about neighbors who are barely connected to a church. They ask it as they pray themselves to sleep worrying about their children who have drifted from the faith. They ask it as they notice members of the congregation who have fallen off the face of the earth. A majority of Americans continue to identify as "Christian" in surveys. But when you consider how many have a meaningful connection to a Christian congregation, “few” seems more accurate.
But still, Jesus doesn’t give an answer. Instead, he turns attention to the Master. I suggest you do the same in your sermon. To be saved, to be welcomed to the feast, is to be known by the Master. Jesus does not explicitly identify the Master in this text, but his behavior immediately prior to and following this text makes it clear that he is the Master (see his healing on the Sabbath in 13:10-17 and 14:1-6). In his resurrection from the dead, he definitively shows himself to be the Master over all things.
The question we should be asking, therefore, is not how many will be saved. But rather, does the Master know me? This is how I suggest you proclaim the Gospel promise from this text. In business they say it’s all about who you know. Turn that around. With respect to salvation, it’s all about who knows you. Your job as preacher is to promise your hearers that the Master knows them. This is a gracious knowing, to be sure. The Master created them. He sees them. Despite their unrighteousness apart from him, he still loves them. He forgives them. He makes them righteous, opens the door to them, and welcomes to them to his table—both here and now in the sacrament, and on the last day when the he returns.
To be known and loved by the Master is a wonderful thing. I’m reminded of a gift my oldest son received at his baptism. It is a small handmade pillow, stitched together by a loved one. On top of the pillow is a riff on the familiar Sunday School song. It says this: “Jesus knows me, this I love.” Proclaim this promise directly to all those who are present to hear you preach.
What about those who are not present? The neighbors and children and delinquent members who are far off? The promise in verses 29-30 offers hope. It also offers motivation (to you and your hearers) to continue praying and continue reaching out to them with the Master’s promise. “Jesus knows you,” we can assure them. And then, together, we graciously welcome them in the Master’s name.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 13:22-30.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 13:22-30.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 13:22-30.