Summary: The sermon on the mount is a series of hard sayings. It begins with consolation, with the blessings for those who follow him, but it ends with a harsh warning: a warning against foolishness and its consequences. Having listened to the sermon on the mount
It seems that life today is all about choice. It’s almost as though if we’re not given half a dozen options to choose from at any given moment we feel deprived. Because choice is our right.
Now choice is good because it produces competition which keeps prices down and it’s a spur to innovation and invention, not to mention greater efficiency and, therefore, productivity. Choice is good because everyone is different; everyone has different needs and of course, the individual rules, so we each need our own individual choice of whatever it is we’re thinking about.
On the other hand there are some people who think that we in the western world have too much choice in our lives. Some think that the degree of choice we’re being offered is counterproductive. We’re now at the point where the degree of choice being sought is leading to inefficiency; e.g. where shops just can’t maintain an inventory that meets everyone’s desires; or where we get confused by the choices being offered. You’ve probably seen the milk ad where the woman goes through the long list of choices of milk available and the guy says "all I want is milk that tastes like ordinary old milk."
Well, in the passage we’re looking at today Jesus offers us a series of choices. But they’re not the long list of choices I’ve just been talking about. In each case the choice is between two opposing possibilities. In fact in each case the choice is between two ways to live.
Narrow gate or wide gate
First he talks about the choice we need to make as far as our eternal destiny is concerned. He says: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." So the choice is between a narrow gate or a wide gate; between an easy road or a hard road.
Now it seems to me that most human beings live according to the law of least resistance. Most people would prefer to follow the crowd than to be different. Peer pressure is the most powerful force in the world today and not just among young people. But Jesus calls us to resist the temptation to follow others; to be willing to be different even if it means taking a road that’s hard to keep to.
Well, what does it mean to take the narrow gate, follow the hard road, the road less travelled? You may have noticed in Australian politics of late, a move to more conservative Christian values. The success of the Family First party at the last federal election indicates a growing awareness in public life that we need more than just good economic and political management. We need a renewal of our value systems. The Australian scene reflects a far stronger movement in the US where George Bush’s declared status as a "born-again Christian" has been a large part of his popular appeal. And you’d have to say our Prime Minister has been quick to jump on the bandwagon in claiming to be a Christian.
So is this what Jesus means when he says we need to take the narrow gate, the hard road? Is he just thinking about a return to Christian values in the world at large? Or is he thinking of something more than that?
I guess one way of answering that question is to ask whether Jesus would ever have been elected Prime Minister of Australia. My assessment is that he wouldn’t have had the faintest hope. Why? Well, because his stance would have been too tough for most people in the party system, let alone the electorate.
Just think about the things he told his disciples they’d have to do if they were to follow him: (Mat 10:34-39 NRSV) "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
(Mat 16:24-25 NRSV) Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."