For some, the central Christian message is the answer to the question, “How do I get to heaven?”
With that question as a guiding principle, Jesus’ words, “the road that leads to life is narrow” take on a treacherous characteristic — a fearful journey where we’d better be afraid of falling off of it — and we’d better be ready to fight to keep that road clear and our feet on it.
In that scenario there are many enemies along the way, and in a world where Christianity and nationalism are conflated, then we better fight those enemies too.
Is that really what Jesus meant?
The focus of Jesus’ teaching was the Kingdom of God. And a quick survey of the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven — over against the way things often are on earth) is, first of all, not a place, but a way of being that regards meekness, mercy, forgiveness, and love as the substance of the Kingdom, and the idea of “people on the outside” as something that should be constantly challenged and overcome. To be sure, it would be great if there were such a place — Jesus wished for that too, saying, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
But back to the road — why is it narrow?
Just before talking about the narrow gate and narrow road that leads to life, Jesus said possibly his most famous words:
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Notice that this is proactive. Treat others with respect, give them a chance to do well, and be generous toward them.
Why? Because you want respect, a chance to do well, and generosity.
This is not: “Don’t hit people so you don’t get hit.” It’s not: “Don’t insult people because you don’t want to be insulted.”
I mean – yes – those things are true. But Jesus said, be proactive — as in, “You go first in treating people right, in doing things that serve others.”
And then Jesus says, “Enter the narrow gate, because narrow is the road that leads to life, and wide is the way that leads to destruction and many go that way.” The gate is the golden rule, the gate is love. It’s narrow, but not because the gospel is hard to understand. It’s narrow because love can be hard.
It’s easier to go the wide path of judgement, hatred, envy, prejudice, fear, and a misguided sense of exceptionalism. In a culture of might and personal rights, and in a world where subjecting others to physical and financial injustice so that we can prosper, where the golden rule is easily dismissed as weakness, or un-American — the road of love is narrow.
But it leads to life. And however hard it is, however narrow it is for our inflated views of self to fit through, the invitation remains:
“Enter the narrow gate — it leads to life.”