Devoted to asceticism, Mahatma Gandhi died with only a few possessions. One of them was a dog-eared copy of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7 of the Christian New Testament. The great Hindu leader whose influence has spread across history once said, “Jesus was a supreme artist because he saw and expressed Truth.”
The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t delivered at a single time or setting. Rather, it’s a compilation of the most earth-shattering, soul-piercing teachings of Jesus. It requires immense courage to take these words seriously. Jesus knew this clearly and he warned against casual trips down the spiritual highway. Towards the end of these chapters, he spoke this admonition. “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.” (7:13-14)
Unfortunately, hellfire preachers and Christian dogmatists got hold of these words and shook them like wolves grinding rabbits in their jaws. Choose Jesus or you’re cruising the highway to hell! Repent of your sins; embrace the ONLY way to heaven! That fire and brimstone style is mostly history (thank God!), but its myopic theology lives on in people who believe their interpretation of faith is the only one that matters.
Enough! These verses are not about salvation in some future eternity; they are meant to heal our precious time on earth. Jesus knew that too many of us follow pathways that hamper, even destroy, our spiritual health, especially in a culture that is militaristic, materialistic, and focused on self-promotion. He also knew that growth and freedom – what he called life abundant – are qualities we must seek with all our hearts and minds.
So how do we find abundant life? How do we unlock the narrow gate? There are many teachers and multiple spiritual disciplines to help us. I have written about them in numerous books. But in keeping with this post, let’s look at four effective keys suggested by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
Be merciful: Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, refuse to return evil for evil. (Matthew 5:38-48) This may seem impossible on the wider stage of our violent world, but in our daily relationships it’s a great karmic reality. When we react rather than respond, we fan the flames of conflict. When we grow angry, the toxicity affects our whole being. Jesus would have us never forget that we, also, are in need of mercy and forgiveness, a spiritual condition that humbles us and links us to all human beings. Mercy extended to another person is mercy we extend to ourselves.
Learn to trust. “Which one of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-34). Fullness of life happens NOW. Learning to trust God (by whatever conception) demands immediacy. Do you think this is obvious, expressed in countless memes? OK, but learning to live in the present is an art few people master. It’s a narrow gate. Without passing through it, our days remain polluted by regrets, fears, and the stress related to countless issues we can never control.
Practice radical honesty. Jesus called us to cleanse our deepest motives, focusing on our own “rightness” before shifting our gaze to others. In numerous examples – our sexual desires, our anger, our so-called piety – he emphasized unflinching self-awareness. No wonder Gandhi, who famously said “Be the change you want to see,” respected this Nazarene who asked: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? First take the plank out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Invest wisely: It’s amazing that a poor carpenter from Judea has influenced this planet for millennia! I believe it’s because we know, in our heart of hearts, that he modeled a higher form of humanity, a counter-cultural set of values. We see this clearly as he says, “Do not store up treasures on earth, where moths and rats destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven…For where you treasure is, there you heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky platitude. It’s about here and now, and it’s brutally frank. If we invest primarily in crumbling possessions rather than our relationships, our character, and our spirit, we miss the narrow gate.
These keys are for everyone, not just those who claim to be disciples of Jesus.
Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort. I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead. … But I myself have written, ‘If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake’.”
Strive to enter the narrow gate today, my friends!