OF WIDE AND NARROW ROADS
"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." – Matthew 7:13-14, NIV
HELL OR HEAVEN? As a youngster, I heard these verses preached as an ultimatum apparently intended to frighten me into walking the narrow way. Hell, it was said, was beyond the wide gate; heaven was on the other side of the narrow gate. Whatever the narrow road represented, that was the way I should go; whatever the wide road meant, it was worth avoiding at whatever the cost. Much of my childhood through adolescent spiritual formation hinged on such stark challenges.
WHAT ABOUT LIFE--HERE AND NOW? But what is the wide road and gate? And what is the narrow road and gate? We assume we know even without looking twice at either the context or historic interpretations. How did Jesus and the Gospel writers intend their original hearers/readers to receive, interpret and respond to these powerful word images? After a week of reading and reflecting on this statement, I offer my present responses into the mix of proffered applications.
1. The paths we choose to travel in life result in predictable outcomes—and they define our lives even as we journey. As we go, we become. I can’t “cheat” my way through life and expect to have the same outcomes as a person who didn’t take short-cuts, avoid difficulties, or resist the rigors of a discipline. The “law of the farm” holds. There are no big surprises at the end of the road, just a fullness or fruition of the manner in which we have traveled. And, we all choose, even if we choose to let others choose our paths and define our manner of living for us.
2. We are confronted with challenges to change our journey’s manner and direction almost daily. The wide or narrow road is not just a one-time choice. Daily we choose, daily we walk, daily we are offered opportunity to make course corrections—or change courses entirely. Negatively, one can yield to inertia, laziness, temptation, mammon, etc. Positively, grace offers us the opportunity to repent, break self-defeating patterns, transcend barriers, contribute to the whole, etc.
3. In contrast to following obvious and easier ways, Jesus invites us to seek and find the living way. The authentic human life Jesus embodied, opened up as a possibility through his own suffering-death-resurrection, and points to isn’t hidden, but it must be sought for. So he implores: “ask,” “seek,” “knock.” “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Do we not see or seek because we are focused on, invested in, and consumed with what is most obvious?
4. Walking with us, Jesus promises joy in the journey and direction for every crossroad we face. In another context Jesus says: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). No doubt, we must rigorously count the cost and weigh our foreseeable options. But this challenge comes from one who also dares to claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” His challenge to “enter through the narrow gate” is weighted with promise and hope that, to me, makes all other viable options seem, by comparison, trivial.