Noonday Eucharist, Chapel of the Apostles, Sewanee
Gen 13:2, 5-18
Mt 7:6, 12-14
The problem with the narrow gate is that we can’t get all of our baggage through. Think of traveling in the airport or in the subway, trying to complete a journey. You’re doing fine until you come to one of those narrow little turnstile-type gates. Perhaps you’re pushing a baby stroller; or you’re laden down by a backpack that covers you like a turtle shell; and you’re pulling a bulging suitcase so heavy that it keeps on tipping over behind you. And you’re trying to get all that stuff through as fast as you can before the bar closes back on you. It’s a real problem.
Think of the brave pioneers heading west to California, wide covered-wagons piled high with beds and dressers and their most treasured possessions. They did fine until the mountains of the Sierra Nevada closed in on them, and the twisting, turning path got narrow, and the rains turned the dust into mud that buried wheels, and the snows covered the trail. The narrow way became hard to find and harder to navigate. The only ones who made it through were the ones who shed all encumbrances by the wayside, quickly, before it was too late.
Think of Lot and Abram on their journey to the land that God has promised them. They’re doing fine until they stumble under the weight of their prosperity. Their baggage bursting with silver and gold, their flocks of animals filled to overflowing, their wealth overwhelms the narrow capacity of their arid land. Going their separate ways, Lot, of course, chooses the wide gate. Who can blame him? As I stood at Green’s View and looked down at the valley yesterday, I thought about poor Lot looking down on the Jordan plain. Like him, I would certainly have chosen the wide expanse of lush farmland, the fertile fields already under cultivation. I would have picked the easy descent into Egypt-like riches over, say, what I saw of the University Farm on the other side, a narrow strip of scraggly land painstakingly reclaimed with sweat and toil from a gravel parking lot.
Now, I’ll admit that Jesus’ warning about gates concerns more than just the bulk of our possessions. I might just be a bit influenced in my reading by our class this summer on money, land, and ecological justice in the bible. But I’m also taking the class on fourth century desert monasticism, and I’m the first to admit that our unwieldy baggage can be made up of other things than gold and silver. Sacks bulging with pride, lust, sloth, gluttony, and all spiritual ills can certainly burden us just as badly on the narrow path to Life in God.
What is clear, is that Jesus is telling us in no uncertain terms that the narrow way is the way to go. It is the only gate that leads to Life, even though it takes us down a path that winds straight through the demanding way of the Sermon on the Mount. Suitcases full of material gain won’t fit in a place where it is the poor, the meek, and the merciful who are blessed. We can’t haul bags full of piety through the shredding blades of the Antitheses. Heavy sacks of judgment will weigh us down. A precious life wrapped in layers of cotton and self-preserving plastic won’t fit through the turnstile.
How do we make it through, then? Like Abram, with eyes lowered in humility, spiritual burdens--and possessions--laid down at God’s feet. We make it through only by putting down our stuff and grasping hold of God’s abundant gifts. We make it through, by emptying our hands so that we can knock at the door, the door where God is waiting to fill our emptied hands with Life.