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~ Why a Narrow Gate? ~
Education by indoctrination involves the repeating of doctrines without critical thinking or discourse until the person adopts them as truth without understanding why they may or may not be true. If they aren’t true, he now believes in and is guided by falsehood. If they are true, he is deprived of the riches of wisdom because he doesn’t know why. That’s one of the reasons Jesus did not teach by indoctrination, an example not always followed by His followers today.
For years I repeated to others, and myself, “Narrow is the gate and constricted is the way that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). Then I paused and asked myself, “What’s going on here?” Although the walled cities of Jesus’ time had “gates,” the metaphor of a gate is most likely based on corrals in pastures. The animals (Jesus most likely had sheep in mind, as this was the prevalent metaphor) needed to leave through the gate into grazing and watering areas, their source of life. A good shepherd, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd, would take care to make sure the gate is wide enough for even the fattest sheep to pass through easily and the road (path) to the grazing grounds was clear and easily navigable.
So how is it that the gate and way for us humans is described as of inferior design and maintenance than that human shepherds and cattle raisers would provide for animals? The delightful and useful understanding rests in the language in which Jesus’ instruction was originally recorded. The Greek word, “stenos,” was translated as “narrow.” Fair enough, but “stenos” also communicates to the Greek reader and listener why the gate is narrow: from obstacles around it. It isn’t narrow by design.
In my countryside wanderings, I encountered gates to pastures on abandoned farms. Through lack of use, stones, weeds, saplings and other things obstructed many of the gates so that they could be forced open only enough for me to squeeze through sideways. The old cattle paths into the pastures were also constricted and faded, often covered over with briars. These were not clean jogging trails!
Jesus said the way (recorded as “hodos” or the means) is “thlibo” meaning crowded or thronged with trouble, suffering, challenge. I think of that when I recall hiking across those abandoned pastures. It’s also an apt description of the means to life, to living fully. So it’s written, “Few are those who find it.” But “find” was translated from “heurisko” meaning “will see or perceive.” Many stand looking out over the gate surrounded by obstacles that make it a narrow squeeze and difficult walk, never able to (or wanting to) perceive the means to life.
Some of these obstacles to perception are described in Jesus’ parable of the seed sower. “Still others, like seed sown among the thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19, NIV). As Jesus said about the gate, the means (the word, or the Word, Himself) is constricted by choking with troubles, sufferings, distractions.
In John 14:6, Jesus uses the same word, recorded in the Greek as "hodos", or "way and means" to describe Himself. He declared “I [ego, me] am [eimi, am, have been, will be] the way [hodos, means], the truth and the life. No one comes [erchomai, enters, grows] to [pros, toward the destination of] the Father, except through [dia, channel or action of] Me [emou, my being]. Christianity is often accused of being non-inclusive or unrespectful of “other ways” to God promulgated by other religious traditions. The manner in which Jesus’ declaration was originally recorded rather describes the relational interconnectivity of the Father and the Father- Incarnate, the Son. Jesus is simply saying one cannot be separated from the other as a matter of plain reality, just a body cannot be separated from air and live. That’s just how it is regardless of human philosophy, religious tradition or political correctness. We mean no offense or arrogance to anyone.
The instruction, “Ask and it will be given; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7) generates many interesting notions from the “prosperity gospel” preaching to the “name-it-and-claim-it” prayer tactics. Ask anything? Seek what? Examining how Matthew recorded this saves us a lot of foolish speculation as we bicker over English words that don’t quite mean what he wrote or what Christ said.
“Aiteite [Call for, crave, implore] kai [the manifested result] didomi [will be brought forth]. Zeteo [endeavor and quest in a worshipful way] kai [the result] heurisko [you will perceive]. Krouo [persistently knock or rap] anoigo [it will open up].” Yes, the worshipful questing caller perceives and attains; the persistent knocking opens it. “As it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him' – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). I guess that rules out the “ask, seek and knock” application to winning lotteries and big job promotions.
In the unaccented, Romanized to our alphabet, Greek rendition, Matthew 7:7 reads: “Aiteite kai dotheesetai humin. Zeeteite kai heureesete. Krouete kai anoigeesetai humin.” These sacred words, this holy declaration, is impregnated with divine wisdom far exceeding what is merely pointed to in our reader-friendly English translations.
The gate isn’t narrow and difficult to squeeze through by some sort of malicious design. The road or path isn’t constricted by obstacles to make traveling the road to green pastures and living water more challenging or difficult to perceive to give us a hard time. God isn’t the source of those obstacles nor is He the reason why we can’t get that gate to open up a little wider. God is the source, and Christ is the way and means, of the redemptive grace that enables those on a worshipful quest to pass through the gate, down the path, into His presence, the fullness of life never-ending.
But we are not talking about Indiana Jones and his Quest for the
Holy Grail. The quest is in being led, not in blazing the way, by the only
One who is able to lead. “The Lord is my shepherd...he leads me...he restores
my soul. He guides me...for his name’s sake [not for mine].” The psalmist
also declares, “It is you, O Lord, who has accomplished all that I have
done.” That, though paradoxically to some, includes asking, seeking and
knocking, and squeezing through that narrow gate.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
in the Christian Faith ~
Spiritual Resourse Services © November 28, 2003
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