“Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14
In my Bible-belt-pious years as a young Christian, I knew exactly what going through the narrow gate meant. Don’t do the bad things that the godless, secular-humanistic culture endorsed.
Now, in my years as a bit older disciple, I see that I got it wrong. I projected onto Jesus what I wanted him to say, and didn’t understand what he was really saying. Maybe that’s because it was too threatening.
I should have taken the hint from a major theme underlying the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus talked about being humble, having pure hearts, showing mercy, and making peace. And embodying a “greater righteousness” than that of the legal experts and Pharisees. And not judging “so you won’t be judged,” something he said just a few verses before mentioning the narrow gate.
Given all this, along with his confrontation of religious leaders who divided humanity into saint-sinner categories and his propensity for hanging out with the ones those men marked as sinners, I think it’s fair to now offer a different understanding:
The narrow gate is loving as Jesus loved.
The wide path is judging as the Pharisees judged.
I find it maddeningly easy to judge. Go through one day trying not to make snap assumptions about someone. It’s their appearance, their lifestyle, their politics, their language. Then ask yourself why you did that. Each time we follow the judging-gene in our human nature, we find ourselves on a crowded, wide road.
What hope do we have of going anti-judging-gene, when it’s so deeply ingrained?
Maybe Jesus had an underlying motive for hanging out with sinners. First, of course, was that he loved them. But second, he took his disciples with him. They would be forced to interact with people they would ordinarily have avoided. They would begin seeing them as unique individuals and not as stereotypical punching bags for the Pharisees. They would understand that connecting authentically helps everyone, both “me and thee,” deepen their heart and soul.
Personally, one of the most eye-opening and grateful experiences for me, by virtue of being a pastor, was the privilege of becoming acquainted with friends in the LGBTQIA+ community. You find it very difficult judging people when you get to know, appreciate, and love them.
The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, when in seminary, had a similar experience. As she made connection with that community, she said her “heart expanded.” They deserved “justice, welcome, and acceptance” just as anyone else because they, also, were beautifully created by God. Listening to their stories and challenges helped her read the Bible differently, too. She would ask critical questions of a text, and one of them would be, “Does it square with Love?” (from her Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World)
So, maybe that’s the key to unlocking the narrow gate. Loving before judging. Meeting people where they are, without assuming we know them. Listening filter-free. Learning from them. Looking for God’s image in them.
The practice of giving up the moral high ground and meeting people on common ground is an on-going spiritual discipline. But maybe it gets easier the more we try to do it. When we relate to the “other” as a fellow saint/sinner/traveler, we find out what Jesus knew all along: where genuine care and acceptance are found, that’s where the kingdom becomes real.
Entering that kingdom through the narrow gate is tough. But isn’t that why we’re saved by grace? The grace of the One who comes to us while we all are yet sinners.