If you have ever pondered some of the meaning behind the illustrations given in scripture, you probably are like the rest of us - wondering why Jesus or the disciples just couldn't come to the point and be all out forthright in what they said. One such method of providing an illustration was through the method of comparing one thing to another - such as a narrow path against a wide path. We all can see the reasonableness in this illustration - the wide path may look more inviting - but just because it is "well-traveled" doesn't make it the right path for us to follow. The narrow path may hold the greatest scenery and the most awesome outcome! Being savvy about these choices is what Jesus had in mind when he presents the comparison - knowing the way of the "crowd" may not be the easiest, but not always give us the greatest reward is important for us to grasp. The comparing of the two is something designed to give us just a moment to consider where it is we might have chosen the easiest or "least restrictive" path in life. We don't like restrictions, do we? In fact, when I wear a pair of shoes which are too tight, I am miserable all day long until I free my tootsies from their captivity! We want "less restriction" in life - the easy way. Jesus is simply presenting two options - the popular way or the way with a few more restrictions.
You can enter true life only through the narrow gate. The gate to hell is very wide, and there is plenty of room on the road that leads there. Many people go that way. But the gate that opens the way to true life is narrow. And the road that leads there is hard to follow. Only a few people find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 ERV)
We resist restrictions because they seem to "bind us in" and make the walk a little harder. I say they "seem to" make it that way for us, but in truth, we often need the support of a little "binding" in our lives. For example, when we are going to be doing lots and lots of lifting, we may don a back support. Why? That small amount of restriction reminds us to use our knees and lift things correctly, while protecting our back a little more than if we weren't wearing it. I use knee supports when I am going to be doing something very strenuous such as hiking a pretty aggressive trail. Why? My knees aren't as strong as they used to be and I don't want to have them give way when I am hiking. I want the "support". Restriction often provides support for the journey, not less freedom. If we are truthful here, the times when we have gotten ourselves into the most trouble are when we have had the least "restraints" in our lives!
True life is entered only through the narrow gate. There is a wider gate, but it doesn't lead to the same result. Lots and lots of people may travel through the wider gate - because it is easiest. It also provides a means by which they can bring all the mess of stuff they want to carry with them in this life. The narrow gate required the one determined to "fit through" the limited space to actually unburden themselves and their "beasts of burden" in order to get through. There is a double message here then - the easiest isn't always the best and the way through is by unburdening oneself. Now, in context, Jesus is telling us that there are lots of choices in life, but one will outlast and outdo all the others. It may not be the most popular choice, but it has the greatest reward. It may not be the "easiest" choice, but it offers the greatest relief to our weariness and unnecessary carrying of burdens.
The narrow gate presents some challenges to the one desiring to get in through that gate. Here are but a few:
- We cannot bring all our burdens inside - we leave them at the gate. To some this may actually present the hardest concept to grasp, for bearing their own burdens has become a way of life and is a hard thing to even imagine. Life without burdens just seems kind of strange to the one who is committed to carrying them all themselves. Jesus is offering a way to unburden oneself, but if we are honest, some of our burdens have kind of become like "pets" to us - we hold onto them, nurse them along, and just cannot seem to put them down. To Jesus, the only way to enter is to simply unload it all.
- We might see the gate as inviting - but will we actually do more than just step inside? I think the challenge to us is one of doing more than just confessing Christ as Lord - for many can do that! We must actually come into the place he has prepared for us - in deep relationship with him. The narrow gate represents more than a passageway - it is an entry point, but entry is not the main objective. We enter in order to explore and experience. When we simply say "yes" to Christ and then stop there, it is like coming into the city through the gate and then saying we have "experienced" the city! How silly is that? Until we have eaten at every restaurant, explored every back road, and walked every pathway within the city, we cannot say we have experienced the city! We cannot experience Christ by simply saying "yes" to him - we have to enter into all he has for us and this requires committed relationship with him. Just sayin!