I follow a myriad of leaders in the world of Christianity and other beliefs.
And by follow, I mean I read, keep up with and absorb. I do not mean blindly trust and emulate.
One of my favorite online sources for devotionals and Bible reading is livingfaith.com.
It is a Catholic devotional that contains the Mass scripture readings for the day.
In case you’re unaware, Catholics have an opportunity to attend mass every day.
It isn’t of the same depth of “High Mass,” which is only one day per week (usually a Friday-Sunday).
Most people do not attend Mass every day.
Some people do.
That’s not the purpose of this post, however. I am merely hoping to contradict any Christians out there who claim that Catholics don’t read or know the Bible.
Even if Catholics do read the Bible, though–or Baptists, Methodists or any other denomination–a little study of Church history in a non-biased light will make any believer understand that so much of what we believe today isn’t actually word for word scripture, but merely an interpretation of scripture that has been passed down to us.
I’ve been thinking lately about the interpretation of the “Narrow Gate.”
Let’s take two examples, the first from Matthew 7. (My favorite translation of the Bible is the New Living Translation, so that’s what I use.)
13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[f] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.Matthew 7, NLT, [Jesus speaking]
Now, what most of us were taught here is that the narrow gate refers to heaven and the highway to hell is a literal hell and this
clearly refers to eternal life and eternal damnation.
Because if you study the context surrounding the scripture, Jesus has talked about anything but eternity. He’s gone from discussing judging others (he says not to), to manifestation (ask for what you want and you’ll get it), to treating others the way you want to be treated (the golden rule).
In light of all these verses, it should seem clear that the narrow gate refers to the fact that very few people live their lives in this way (the above verses I just pointed out). And in fact, living in this simple way brings out the best life, while most of us sit around being judgy-judgy, not asking for what we want but instead thinking we have to begrudgingly work for everything we want, and mistreating the heck out of others.
Again, in Luke 13, Jesus discusses the narrow gate, this time, in the context of answering the following question.
“Lord, will only a few be saved?” (Luke 13:23)
Here is Jesus’s reply:
24 “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. 25 When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’
28 “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out. 29 And people will come from all over the world—from east and west, north and south—to take their places in the Kingdom of God. 30 And note this: Some who seem least important now will be the greatest then, and some who are the greatest now will be least important then.[a]”Luke 13, NLT [Jesus speaking]
Again, while it appears obvious to those of us who have been taught to interpret the scriptures as eternal damnation that it’s exactly what Jesus is saying, in context of all the verses surrounding it, we must view the narrow gate with fresh eyes.
Surrounding the above quote is a series of frustrations for Jesus of the various ways the Jewish people misinterpret the character of God. It’s almost as if Jesus is handing back to them what they’ve been believing, his frustrations over their work-based theology mounting.
At the beginning of Luke 13, he asks them to repent. Repent, quite literally means, “to change one’s mind.” Nothing more, nothing less.
What did the Jewish people need to change their minds about?
Well, for starters, the Jews needed to change their minds about the Messiah.
He wasn’t a soldier coming to rescue them from Rome.
He wasn’t a dictator coming to rain fire and brimstone on anyone who didn’t follow x, y, and z.
He wasn’t a gate-shutter who planned to close the door on all but a select few.
Quite the opposite, actually.
And this was and still is the part that trips so many of us God-followers up, right? This idea that being a Christian is an all/nothing; black/white; us/them; certain/uncertain system of belief.
We believers have to reconcile that Jesus either did what he said he was going to do or didn’t.
He either allowed all in through adoption or shut the door on them.
He either opens the gate or closes it.
He either invites all or doesn’t.
What so many Christians say is this, Yes, he does all of the above, but we must accept the invitation.
But that completely contradicts, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” [John 15:16]
They say, It’s for God to decide who he wants saved and who He doesn’t want saved.
But that completely contradicts, “This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” [1 Timothy 2:3-4, emphasis mine]
Are we going to sit here and say that we know better than a God who desires that all men be saved? Are we going to claim we believe in a God that is not capable of achieving what he wants?
And for those who will argue that this particular verse shouldn’t be taken literally, how do we decide what should be taken literally and what shouldn’t?
That’s actually not rhetorical. As a history teacher with an emphasis on Church history, I can tell you how you’ve decided that:
Someone has told you what is literal and what is not.
In other words, someone has taught you how to interpret the Bible, and you have simply trusted that their interpretation was truth.
And over time, you not only took that to mean little t truth, you took that to mean capital T, TRUTH, as in God Himself, who is the only Truth.
But that in and of itself is a fallacy because if God is the only Truth, and we can’t possibly think like him, how can we possibly claim to know his capital T TRUTH?
Ahhhh, now we’re getting somewhere.
God is a mystery. And that’s okay. It’s good, even.
He is good.
Is it possible that the narrow gate is simply a way of living that so few of us ever find?
Is it possible that the reason the Jews were “gnashing” their teeth was out of anger that others had found what they themselves couldn’t find, this rest that only comes from believing that God is who He says He is?
Is it possible that these passages have absolutely nothing at all to do with eternity?
I would say it’s not only possible, but probable.
Rest easy knowing that the Christian life isn’t meant to be spent working to get to Heaven.
The narrow gate, the Way to Life, falls on two practices:
See you soon,