Guest contributor: Ed Trego
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
As I look at the world today, it’s easy to understand Jesus’ warning above. So many want to believe, and would have others believe, that they are the chosen ones, the spiritual ones, God’s elect. However, many of them do not follow the path that Jesus has laid out before us. They refuse to accept the hardship and difficulty of finding the narrow gate. Even if they should stumble upon it, they lack the spiritual strength to enter through it.
Making it to church on Sunday and living the rest of the week for themselves is not the answer, yet many follow that pattern. They trot out their “Sunday Best,” not only in clothes, but also in spirituality, and then put their Christianity back in the closet with their suits and finery until the next Sunday. Some don’t even wait until Mass has ended to slip out the doors and get back to their own lives. If they can’t even devout one hour to God on Sunday, why should they expect that God will be welcoming them with open arms? What other relationship could grow and flourish if ignored the way many ignore their relationship with God? Imagine trying to sustain a marriage by devoting an hour a week to it and living the rest of the week selfishly and without concern for your spouse. Your marriage would fall apart very quickly. So will your relationship with God if you aren’t willing to devote the time necessary to make it grow and flourish.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:31-39)
Once again we are told that there will be difficulties to overcome if we are to follow Jesus. If we will only look around, we see that Jesus’ words are very true in many lives today. How many of us have relatives who refuse Christianity and live their lives in sin? How many of us have the courage to confront them? That’s what Jesus was telling us He came to do; to turn us against our own family if necessary in order to serve and follow Him. A very hard teaching that few put into practice. There used to be shame in our society. When someone chose to ignore morality and live in sin, there was a price to pay. Even their own families would shame them and, in some cases, refuse to consider them a part of their family as long as they continued to live in sin. That shame is practically non-existent in society today.
Jesus tells us that we must love Him more than our earthly family. Members of our family may turn from God. Our son or our daughter may live a sinful life. Our brother or sister may be living in a sinful relationship. If we truly love Jesus and wish to follow Him, we must be willing to confront those persons and, with great love and tenderness, gently point out their sinfulness.
Our family should also extend to those people with whom we associate and, in a larger sense, to society at large. Sadly, our society has reached a level of decadence that threatens all of us in its sinfulness. Acts that would have brought shame and the reproach of others are ignored, while those who truly practice their Christianity are under attack from every corner. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear or read of the death of an innocent at the hands of someone who simply has no regard for human life. Kids enter schools and kill other kids; children shoot total strangers out of boredom. Girls and women are drugged and raped and it’s passed off as “date rape” and almost snickered at rather than condemned. We have failed miserably to instill respect for others in our younger generation. If fact we’ve taught them that life isn’t sacred if it’s inconvenient. Through abortion and assisted suicide we’ve taught our children that an innocent in the womb or an elderly in a nursing home is of no value. They can be discarded along with the with the trash if they are an inconvenience. We offer no choice to the unborn; how long will it be until we no longer give the choice to the elderly or the infirm. Are we to decide whose life is of value and whose isn’t? We do not give life, God does. We have no right to take innocent life. It is our responsibility as Christians to combat the sinfulness and lack of morality so common in our society today. Jesus expects that of us if we are to be His followers. He also expects that we will experience some difficulty and even rejection by those we love when we confront these issues in a Christian way. The narrow gate is not for those who refuse to live their spirituality rather than just proclaim it.
“And behold, one came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed; what do I do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure I heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
“And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:16-24)
The gospel doesn’t tell us if the young man took Jesus’ advice and sold his possessions and came back to follow Him. However, this teaching again reminds us that following Jesus will have some difficulty and discomfort to overcome. What we hold most precious on earth can rob us of the true treasure of eternal life with God. We must be willing to sacrifice those blessings God has provided without thought to their earthly worth. If we refuse to be good stewards of the gifts of God, we risk losing salvation and eternal life as well.
Thankfully, Jesus also gave us the path to salvation, “When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 16:25-26). With the help of Jesus we can turn from our earthly wants and desires and seek those things that will bring us eternal life. But He is also telling us it is not possible without God. We can’t do it alone, we must have the grace, mercy and help of God.
The path, then, requires God’s intervention. If we consider our sinfulness and weakness as Christians, we must know that our salvation isn’t the result of our efforts, but of the mercy of God. Yes, we must do those things that our Christian beliefs would require; prayer, forgiveness; loving others; sharing the blessings we have received. But if we are to enter the kingdom of God, he must invite us through His loving mercy and forgiveness. We don’t have the cost of the ticket, Jesus had to pay that price for us. Only by the intervention of God can a camel “go through the eye of a needle.”
As we have seen, Jesus gave warning to all that the way to paradise is not going to be easy. It will be hard and difficult. Many will think they are headed in the right direction, but find out too late that they have gone through the wide gate that leads to destruction. Many will start down the right path, but turn away when the going gets hard. Still others will try their best to remain on the path to the narrow gate but won’t understand that they don’t have the strength to get through the gate. Without God, it isn’t possible. But with God all things are possible. Even though we are sinful humans, incapable of obtaining salvation on our own, that promise is offered if only we turn to God for his help.
Throughout Christian history many have said, and many today, continue to say they are following the path, but few truly are. “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus told us that those who find the narrow gate are few. Even those who work miracles in His name aren’t assured of heaven if they haven’t entered through the narrow gate. How can we know which gate we are approaching? Especially in the world today, the narrow gate is not only difficult to enter, it’s hard to even find. It’s hidden among the sinfulness and secularism prevalent in today’s society. Some might think it beyond the hope of anyone to find that gate and enter the kingdom through it.
Yet, in His teaching, His parables and the guidance given to His apostles Jesus leads the way to the narrow gate. He repeatedly points out the error of those who believe they are righteous, admonishing them to change their ways before it is too late. Some did, but many ignored the warnings and will spend eternity in hell rather than heaven. Today, also, some heed His word, believe what He said, and produce good fruit. Many would have the world believe they are the faithful, righteous followers of Christ, but they ignore His word in many ways and produce no fruit. These are the ones who will be cast aside on that judgment day.
Don’t think that you aren’t capable of finding the narrow gate. Don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t enter through it. Is it difficult? If we believe Jesus, the answer is yes. Is it impossible? Again, if we believe Jesus, no, it’s not impossible. We must strive to do our best while realizing that we will fail from time to time. We must recognize that we can’t earn our way into heaven, but must have the help of God to get there. He waits for us to ask; He waits to forgive us; He waits to welcome us into His kingdom.
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)