Mahatma Gandhi died with just a few possessions. One was a dog-eared copy of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, a compilation of teachings found in Matthew, chapters 5-7. The great Hindu once said, “Jesus was a supreme artist because he saw and expressed Truth.”
Towards the end of those chapters, we read “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)
Hellfire preachers 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 it’s 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 destroy our spiritual health, especially in a culture that is militaristic, materialistic, and focused on self-promotion.
So how do we find real life? How do we unlock the narrow gate? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us four effective keys.
- Be merciful: Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, refuse to return evil for evil. (Matthew 5:38-48) That may seem impossible in 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. We forget that we, also, are in need of mercy and forgiveness, a spiritual condition that humbles us and links us to all human beings.
- 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 or fears.
- 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: 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-culture 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, our spirit – we miss the narrow gate.
These keys are for everyone, not just Christians. Kurt Vonnegut, a confirmed humanist, once said, “If Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount…I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I’d just as soon be a rattlesnake.”
Enter the narrow gate today, friends. Carpe diem!