Sunday, July 3, 2011

Obeying The Signs – SOTM #23

The sign read, “Enter through the narrow gate.” But the crowd was headed for the other gate, the wide one. What to do? The object was to get in and it surely looked like the majority had figured out that the quickest and most pain-free way was through the wide gate.

There were advantages to going to the narrow gate; fewer people crowded that path. The debris from discarded litter was not as prevalent. Actually, although the path was narrow, as was the gate itself, those on that path were less rude and pushy. In addition, there seemed to be little if any backup at the gate itself. Of course if everyone suddenly decided to go that way there would be an awful crush of humanity.

And besides, there must be some reason the crowds were going the other way; going enthusiastically actually, pushing and shoving each other in their hurry to “get in.” Most seemed happy but there were occasional altercations when someone thought another person was pushing ahead in the line.

When faced with a situation like this we quickly learn what kind of person we are. The sign, after all, read, “Enter through the narrow gate.” So why would a nice person like you – like me – not obey the sign? Well, for many reasons, perhaps the most common being that we are influenced by the crowd. But there is also a sort of rebellion against being told there is only one way to get in. Some bureaucrat, no doubt, is trying to decide for other people what is best for them. Or, it could be a trick too; a way to siphon off part of the crowd into some less desirable area. Who wants to get stuck with all those suckers who headed for the narrow gate? And besides, even if the wide gate proves to be the wrong choice, there will surely be a way to get around to the area that the narrow gate leads to.

Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said to the crowd:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Those are among the most daunting words Jesus spoke while he was on earth. The instruction is clear. The choice is unequivocal.  The consequences of the choice are certain and irreversible. It is, as clearly as any choice can be, a matter of life and death.

What is it that Jesus is describing in these stark terms? What do these gates open into? He tells us. One leads to life, one to destruction – death. But the hearer must take it on faith that Jesus knows what he is saying. Only after one is through the gate – which ever gate one chooses – and it has swung shut behind him or her, does one know for sure if Jesus words are true.

It is not God’s will that the road to life be so sparsely traveled, but he knows the mind and heart of man. Only a few will find it. That idea runs contrary to the belief of our time. In our U.S. culture, the majority of adults declare themselves on the road to life. Jesus says otherwise. And sadly the evidence points otherwise as well.

In the earlier parts of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has been describing the road to life. It is progressively narrowed by the requirements Jesus lays down regarding life in the kingdom of heaven. As beautiful as the beatitudes may sound on first hearing, they become more and more burdensome as one hears the elaboration of what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of Christ. The broader road looks better to more and more people, and the crowd drifts to the wide gate.

And who is left traveling the narrow road to the narrow gate? Those who are poor in spirit, meek, merciful, peace makers, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart. To those on the broad road they seem a pathetic crowd; fools actually who deserve the ridicule of all who travel the broad road. But in the end the narrow gate opens into eternal life.

The broad road? Where does it lead? Well, lets just say that Jesus warned us to enter through the narrow gate.

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