Why make the hard road*
Matthew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount
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. Matthew 7:13–14 NIV
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
I have heard it said that there is a highway to Hell but only a stairway to heaven. That is putting the passage above into the titles of classic rock songs by AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. This passage in Matthew’s Gospel comes straight after the Golden Rule, do to others what you would have them do to you, and it is linked to that passage.
It has been some time, over two years, since I last blogged on the sermon on the mount. I am finishing it now because I want to blog in advent on the next narrative section in the Gospel during Advent, so there is the small task of finishing the teaching from the Sermon on the Mount before then.
Why is Jesus trying to put people off from following him? The difficulty is in the Golden Rule itself. Treating people how we want them to treat us can be difficult, especially if like me you do not like the white lies that pass for politeness. If I have bought a coat that people find hideous I need to know even if telling me it looks hideous is considered impolite. The problem with the Golden Rule is that if I treat other people the same way that I want other people to treat me they consider me rude. Brutal honesty is a trait in a lot of autistic people, myself included.
Jesus said that many go down the wide road, the easy road. Peer pressure makes it difficult for us to do anything but comply with the society we live in. It is fine to comply in some things, a lot of our laws have a background in the Bible, but there are times when the Bible speaks about things which go against what society teaches.
The different New Testament writers had their own ways of putting this. Matthew quoted Jesus as saying take the difficult road. The Apostle Paul spoke of not being conformed to the world, the same sentiment reframed into different words for a non-Jewish audience. The Apostle John said that Jesus is himself the way. Following the correct road then means conforming to Jesus. We have to look at who Jesus was and what he did to know what our road is.
Jesus was overtly on the side of the poor, the excluded, the ignored, the disenfranchised and the exploited. He never condemned those at the bottom of society, he saved his harshest words for the religious and political rulers for preserving the status quo and keeping the little man down. Even so, when these rulers got it right in Jesus’ eyes he commended them. Jesus death can be seen as the inevitable outcome of standing up to the authorities at the time if you look at it from a purely political viewpoint. Of course, there is more to it than that, there are issues of freedom, atonement and redemption, amongst others, to take into account as well.
Taking the side of those who society ignores can be a thankless task. It would be more fun to go out and drink on a weekend than to go and hand out cheap flip-flops to young women who are too drunk to walk in their stiletto heels. It is easier to condemn the lifestyle of going out to get drunk than it is to help. The social gospel is part of the Gospel which would not be complete without it. Jesus came to reconcile people to God and to reconcile people to each other. He told us not only to love God, but also to love others as we love ourselves. In a world where those who voted for Brexit are urged to hate Remainers, and Remainers are being urged to hate Brexiteers, people who reconcile are needed more than ever. It will involve swimming against the stream of current political dogma.
*Lyric from Hard Road by Black Sabbath.