Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. – Matthew 7:13-21
It was an inviting little road, a smooth-packed dirt trail leading into the forest in the mountains of Virginia. I was young, out on my own with my first car and the invitation was undeniable. Driving through the lush woods with sun dappling the road, the trees and the undergrowth, it was one of the most beautiful places I could imagine. I drove on until, suddenly, the road rose a bit and as I neared the top I realized I couldn’t see where the road went from there. I couldn’t get out of the car because the underbrush was too thick, I couldn’t see over the hood of my beloved Mustang, and I had absolutely no idea whether the road went straight once I’d crested the hill, turned to the right or left or even ended in a canyon a hundred feet deep. I must have fought panic and every scenario I could think of for what seemed like forever but which was probably closer to half an hour. Funny, I don’t remember how I finally got up the nerve to put the car in first gear and ease my way over the top of the hill. I don’t remember which way the road went but I made it home safely. I do remember saying “Thank you!” to God about a thousand times, though. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life, and all because of a narrow little dirt road leading to a mountain forest.
Most folks are happy to get on a freeway and nudge the speed limit (or even outright ignore it) in an effort to get wherever they’re going faster. Wide, smooth ribbons of concrete and asphalt suit them just fine, never mind that the only scenery is billboards (electronic or otherwise), fences and walls with the tops of buildings showing above them. One other benefit of freeways is that there is usually room to maneuver if things start to get dicey. Of course, once an accident happens it usually sets up a gridlock that can last for hours, longer than it would have taken to take a smaller, perhaps more scenic route. Still, it’s the chance one takes for the sake of getting there, doing whatever one came to do and getting home faster.
Driving on a one- or two-lane road, there are twists and turns. They seldom go perfectly straight for more than a mile or so, and often contain potholes and the like. Walls are at a minimum and there are few if any billboards to detract from the sight of houses with yards and kids playing in them, trees, meadows and the like. It gets a person closer to nature in a way. Of course, coming across someone coming in the opposite direction means one is going to have to back up to a relatively wider spot in the road before continuing on , but that’s just a risk a driver takes when they follow the lure of the road less taken.
One-lane roads are kind of like life, I think. Things pop up around the next bend or just over the next hill and those things have to be dealt with in one way or another. How deep is that pothole and can the vehicle straddle it safely? Can the vehicle pass over that rock with enough clearance or is there going to be a risk of damage to structures on the undercarriage that would cause the vehicle to become undriveable? What happens when a driver comes upon a bump in the road? Is it a warning to slow down or is it something else?
The narrow path Jesus talks about is similar. When it comes to faith, most folks want to be on a narrow path; they want the security of having the boundaries listed out for them and they want to be convinced that this is the only right path. If they meet a stranger on the road, chances are they will try an evasive action and hope that stranger isn’t some sort of brigand bent on mischief. But what if that stranger were Jesus? What if the head-to-head meeting were an invitation to reconsider, to see the narrow path as something else? What if it were an invitation to change the thinking and see the path widen a bit?
Christians believe that Jesus is the true path and that his teachings are clear about almost everything. To an extent that’s true, but often there’s a message we don’t want to hear or find a bit too difficult to deal with so we edge around it and continue on our way. “Love your neighbor as yourself ” is a big pothole, especially if the neighbor is nothing like us, looks different, has different beliefs and customs, has some illness or deformity or problem that makes them not really like us. The rock in the road might be to care for the poor, the sick, the widows and orphans and the imprisoned but we usually try to squeeze by that rock or climb over it if we must. In fact, we want to do anything at all other than deal with it and remove it.
We are each on a path, be it very narrow or rather broad, but each of us will run into obstacles and problems and messes that have to be overcome, repaired or cleaned up. We as Christians need to see Jesus a life preserver, the bridge over the rushing stream, the Samarian who will help us, but we bear some responsibility for ourselves. “[F]aith without works is dead’ (James 2:26b). Faith is the path but without action or works, we’re just standing still. Sometimes we have to take a pickaxe in hand, or a shovel, or maybe get another person to help get rid of the obstacle, not just to clear the path for ourselves but for others.
Sometimes it’s the only real, reasonable thing to do. And, I have a feeling, Jesus thinks so too.