Summary: In a safety and security conscience culture, does the narrow way of Jesus offer such a radical departure that we have missed the danger of the Kingdom?
Series on the Mount
October 28, 2007
We live in a safety first culture. When I was a kid, we didn’t wear helmets when riding our bikes except on the BMX track. I turned out ok. Today we wear seatbelts, have car seats, and heaven forbid that the kids might actually get to ride in the back of a pick up truck. Not only that but cars now have airbags in the front, on the sides, in the back, on top, and on the bottom. We have disinfectants and sanitizers. I’m not saying that all this concern about safety is bad. What I am wondering about is maybe we have sterilized Jesus. Maybe we’ve sanitized the gospel.
Following Jesus is no longer dirty busy. We’re civilized after all. We pad our pews and our budgets. Our number one goal especially since 9/11 is to be safe and secure, which is why we now have a whole branch of government that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on Homeland Security. I just saw on CNN that New York City is going to be spending millions of dollars on security cameras all over the city so that people are safe from those that might want to harm us.
We have safety testing on prescription drugs as well as our children’s toys. Is it any wonder that extreme sports are so popular with emerging generations? Speaking of safe toys, I just saw another recall. This one is on a play set. I don’t remember the name of the company or the model but if you have a play set in your yard or at your school that has a slide that resembles the one in this picture then you should be warned that it is not entirely safe for your children and needs to be returned at once.
Our passage today is a reminder that following Jesus is not safe and we need to be wary of our readings of the Jesus’ teaching that might be more influenced by our safety conscious culture than on the wonderous danger of following Jesus. Turn to Matthew 7:13, which is the beginning of the conclusion of Jesus radical, life-changing, world-altering, culture-creating, community transforming teachings.
"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.”
Here Jesus wants to give us a contrast between the life of a disciple and the life of the rest of the world. Matthew wants his persecuted community to remember that the life that they chose in following Jesus is the only way to be saved. Matthew is reminding his community that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus will find it.” (Mt. 16:25).
The narrow gate. The narrow way. Matthew and Jesus’ communities would have been very familiar with this reference. First of all, two paths, one of life and the other of destruction were common pictures of the culture. Probably they referenced the roads that were traveled as well as the gates of a city. In Jesus’ day people walked. You walked from city to city and most of Israel could be walked from end to end in a few days if you walked diligently and purposefully with the goal to cross as much terrain as possible. But very few walked this way because when you traveled, you journeyed. You focused on those who were with you and those that you would meet along the way. This was life.
Not only that when you traveled, you usually traveled the well-worn paths. Those paths that were wide and have had many of the obstacles removed. Sure there were other paths, many of which were perhaps a little shorter and possibly a little quicker but these were the safest routes. Bandits, thieves, and murderers stayed out in the wilderness to prey on the weak and those foolish enough to try alternate routes or even foolish enough to travel alone. In fact, you never traveled alone. You traveled in groups as there is safety in numbers.
Additionally, cities were usually built on tels or hills. They would be surrounded by walls that had one broad gate. This gate was often the weak point in the city defenses so it was heavily fortified. But often strongholds would have at least one hidden and secret exit usually from somewhere deep inside the keep. Often it would be a tunnel that might extend for miles underground and emerge in a secluded and hidden area.
Jesus is telling us that following his ways is like the narrow gate into the city. It is in the wilderness. It is often a secret path. The main gate is the way to destruction. It is well guarded and heavily fortified. If you try to enter the enemy’s stronghold that way—you will die. Instead, his kingdom starts small. It begins with the people who live differently, radically but not in a way that makes themselves a spectacle as the hypocrites do. It is the slow, sure way of love that Jesus is teaching. It will not get you rich. It will not gain you recognition or fame. In fact, it most likely NOT provide you any earthly comfort or security instead leading to the loss of your life as you take up your cross. It is not the way of safety first. The narrow way is a contradiction to the broad and popular way that is found in the surrounding culture and surrounding religious systems.