Robert Capon – Parable of the Narrow and Closed Doors

This week we are discussing the Parables of the Narrow and Closed Doors (Luke 13:22-30) and the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Please read chapter 11 “Back to Death, Lastness, and Lostness” and the first part of chapter 13 “The Party Parables” of Rev. Robert F. Capon’s book  Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Fr. Kimel’s teaching on the chapter is here (from which I have liberally borrowed).

The Context:

Going back to the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Capon’s great theme of the parables of grace is that the grace of Jesus Christ will always find us once we eventually and finally embrace death, lastness, and lostness. In the end, the grace of God is irresistible because, in his Crucifixion, Jesus will draw all things to himself. John 12:32. The question is simply one of timing, not the ultimate result. But now we (specifically Jesus) are faced with the direct question of “will those who are saved be few?” Luke 13:23. Or more subtly, “how do I make the cut, and others won’t?” At first reading, this passage seems to contradict everything Capon has told us about Jesus’ parables up to this point. See if you agree with Rev. Capon’s teaching.

The Parable:

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them,  “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:22-30.

The Narrow Door:

Capon splits this reading into two parts – an introduction describing the narrow door and a longer passage describing a closed door. In the first part, Jesus simply says to enter by the narrow door. He does not tell us what the narrow door is or the criteria for entering. Jesus, of course, is the door (John 7:10), but that may be all we know for certain.

For Capon, The narrow door—the tight squeeze in front of absolutely free salvation—is faith in Jesus’ death. p.263. Jesus has been consistently speaking of his death, its necessity, and his resurrection. As we have looked at over the past two weeks, Jesus’ teaching is a call to us to embrace his death and ours and thereby participate in his resurrection and the new life it brings. The door’s forbidding narrowness lies not in the fact that it is so small it is hard to find; rather it lies in the fact that it is so repulsive it is hard to accept. . . . . to anyone in his right mind, the program of salvation via death, as proposed by Jesus, simply stinks. p.264

Jesus’ teaching of salvation is repulsive, and thereby narrow, for two reasons. First, a real Messiah and Deliverer is not supposed to be crucified and die. No one wants to follow someone who tells us that we must die. Peter’s initial reaction to Jesus’ teaching about his death and resurrection (“God forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you.” Matt. 16:22), is the normal reaction to such a teaching. Messiahs do not get killed. Life is not found in death.

Jesus’ teaching of salvation is also repulsive and narrow because it lets in the riffraff, since all they have to be is dead; and it offends the classy, since they wouldn’t even be caught dead entertaining such a proposition. If the last, the least, the lost, the little, and the dead are the first in the kingdom of heaven what of the good, the proper, the religious, the prayerful, and those that strive to follow the Law? As we will look at in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14), the conniving traitors and thieving tax collectors get in, and the morally-upright Pharisees are left behind. Not only should life not be found in death, but salvation should not be found in antinomian moral non-compliance.

The door is narrow not because it is hard to find or because its moral rules for entry (of which there are none) are difficult with which to comply. Rather, the door is narrow because it is hard to accept. Our holding on to the things of this life prevents us from entering the narrow door.

The Locked Door:

In the second part of the parable, the situation is similar to that of the Friend at Midnight. The householder has arisen to lock the door (for the evening?). Perhaps, like the friend in the prior parable, he has fallen asleep. Suddenly there is a knocking at the door and a group of people begs for entry, but the householder denies them. “I do not know you,” he tells them but they assure him that they are acquaintances: “We ate and drank before you, and you taught in our streets.” Again the householder denies them and simply refuses to open the door.

The central character of this parable is the “householder.” The word “householder” (Gk. oikedespotes) is found throughout the parables – the Parable of the Weeds (Matt. 13:27), Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20), the Great Banquet (Luke 14:21), and the Vineyard and the Tenants (Matt. 21:23).  In each of these cases, the word references the master of an estate who takes certain actions (or rather orders his servants or slaves to take certain actions) in the management of his estate.

In looking at the main character as a householder or master of an estate, how are his actions in keeping with the management of his estate? Why would these people be kept out? This question is in the same vein as asking why the master did not want the weeds pulled up. Why would the master want to exclude this apparently hyper, talkative crowd who speaks primarily of eating and drinking?

The answer to why the householder locks these people out is evident in the question. As Capon points out, we are not exactly certain what those knocking on the closed door want, but whatever it is, it will be something based entirely on their concerns, their convenience, their problems – in short, their lives. . . . Despite their cajolery, though, Jesus has the householder tell them that they simply don’t fit in with his plans. p.268. The crowd wants in without dying to themselves, and therefore they have no share in the Kingdom.

The Eschatology of the Two Doors:

The parable gives us the choice of two doors. The first door is narrow because it is hard to accept. Entering this door requires us to leave behind ourselves. This door, however, is always open which is why Jesus says that we should strive to enter it. (If this door ever closed, then why try.) The second door is the locked door. This is the door that we want to enter because this door allows us to bring with us all of our cares, concerns, and attachments to this world. Knocking on this door does not cause it to open.

But having the second door being locked is not a statement of judgment against certain people, any more than the parable of the weeds made a distinction between different people. Rather, the closing of the oikodespotes’ door should be interpreted not as the locking out of the damned but as the closing of the door of ordinary living as a way to eternal life. Jesus our oikodespotes rises out of his three-day nap in the grave and he closes all other doors to salvation except faithful waiting in the endless sabbath of his death. He leaves us, that is, no entrance into life but the narrow door of our own nothingness and death—the Door, in fact (John 10:9), that is Jesus himself.

The Narrow Door is always open. Capon draws together the Narrow Door of salvation and Jesus’ statement that “he will draw all to myself.” John 12:32. All the suction in the universe – all the “drawing” by which the Word woos creation back to be his bride – is through the narrow door of death. You may run from it, you may fight it, you may protest it, you may hate it – all in the name of what you call life. But if ever just once you slip up in your frantic struggle to live your way to your eternal home – if just once you simply drop dead- well then, sssslurrrp!!! … the suction will get you, and home you go. Not because you deserve to; only because that’s the way the universe is built. p.264. In this way, the narrowness of the door, like the refiner’s fire, disposes of those parts of our lives that unsuccessfully knock on the householder’s door. In the end, it is the narrow door through which all will enter. (See the discussion from St. Gregory of Nyssa below.)

Dinner is at 6:00. The menu is pot roast. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!

If a clay of the more tenacious kind is deeply plastered round a rope, and then the end of the rope is put through a narrow hole, and then someone on the further side violently pulls it by that end, the result must be that, while the rope itself obeys the force exerted, the clay that has been plastered upon it is scraped off it with this violent pulling and is left outside the hole, and is the cause why the rope does not run easily through the passage but has to undergo a violent tension at the hands of the puller. In such a manner, I think, we may figure to ourselves the agonized struggle of that soul which has wrapped itself up in earthy material passions, when God is drawing it, His own one, to Himself, and the foreign matter, which has somehow grown into its substance, has to be scraped from it by main force, and so occasions it that keen intolerable anguish. Then it seems, I said, that it is not punishment chiefly and principally that the Deity, as Judge, afflicts sinners with; but He operates, as your argument has shown, only to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection.

2 thoughts on “Robert Capon – Parable of the Narrow and Closed Doors”

  1. Pingback: Robert Capon – Parable of the Great Banquet – Ancient Anglican

  2. Pingback: Robert Capon – Parable of the Lost (Older) Son – Ancient Anglican

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