ORDINARY PEOPLE , THE NARROW WAY AND GRACE

The MSG version of the Bible says that God has not revealed himself to the sophisticated people but to the little ones, the children, and the ordinary folks. See below in Matthew 11:25-30.

25-26 Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.” (I have left out some verses that don’t affect the context.)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

‘Know it alls’ need not apply.

 

So what about theology, philosophy and the other ‘sophisticated’ means of understanding God? Well, Jesus himself was wearied by the lack of simple trust on the part of the ‘smart’ people. It’s very simple, this Gospel. Simple enough for a child.

Jesus comes as the very presence and essence of God among us and invites us to place our confidence in him for every aspect of our lives. He says to us that he is humble and being his apprentice, or student is not as difficult as might think. It is surely not as difficult as the religious leaders made it for the first century people with their 613 laws to follow. Jesus will in fact, at some point, say that the two great commandments are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (See Matthew 22) Paul will even break that down for believers in God already when he says the whole law is summed up in ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ (See Galatians 5:14)

See living with Christ is only difficult when you leave decisions about life till the last moment instead of trust him all the time and practicing that trust. It’s a relationship, a daily connection with Jesus.

Sometimes, though, we read another passage in the Bible and get nervous about this ‘faith’ thing. You might remember in Matthew 7 that Jesus says enter through the narrow gate.

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

We westerners misunderstand that verse to mean that the way to salvation is through the narrow gate, like you have to have your life so in order to get into heaven but no, Jesus means something very different.

Jesus is saying that if we want the fullness of life that he offers right here and now then come to him, take that easy yoke and learn from this gentle and humble master how to best live.

When I was in the Coast Guard Academy we had a leader of our platoon who was exemplary for his apprentices. He put us through some rigorous activities and exercises and here’s the thing. He did everyone one of them with us to show us that they could be done and that this training would prepare us for the life for which we signed up.

Jesus will never ask us to do anything or live in any manner that he has not lived or understood. Remember, he is God. He is the full expression of our Father in heaven and we are asked and invited to live as he lives, in love with those nearest to us.

Let me give an example:

Here’s the wide way, the large way to live- someone curses you, gives you the finger or cuts you off on the highway. The world says, cuss ’em out, blow them off, and curse the suckers. That’s ok but…and here’s the thing (again) by doing so you and I will not learn the heart of the Father revealed in Jesus.

The world says that when someone wrongs you get even. That ‘way’ is broad and you can wander it to your delight but Jesus invites us into the Father’s heart by saying ‘forgive’.

Now the wide path is full of reasons, good reasons NOT to forgive. The narrow path along which Jesus walks has one purpose: to have the heart of the Father.

Certainly all of us will graduate to the sky. Not sure of a better phrase. And that’s fine but I for one want to live with Jesus who says to me, ‘Take my hand, I will lead you even when you don’t know where the heck you are going.’ But he has laid out the plans for our lives.

See, anybody can get married and that’s about it for most people. A vow, a ring and a few words and voila. Married. But followers of Jesus want more. They want love, a love that is shared and a love that cares deeply for the ‘other’ first.

Most anybody can build a house (well that’s arguable). Some nails, wood, a hammer and you could put up some kind of structure. But if you want to live in that home you need to follow the teachings of a master builder.

Jesus isn’t laying down a law that says if you don’t do such and such God won’t love you or accept you. No, certainly not. That’s not grace. Jesus is simply stating that living the ‘good’ ‘full’ and even ‘abundant life’ means looking for the best way to working with him, to access God’s grace.

If this life is ‘just’ about being forgiven then we can consider ourselves ‘in’. Scriptures says such in John 1:29 and 2Corinthians 5:19. But if we want LIFE a life that will last forever then here’s the little path through the woods, through the entanglements of life and the temptations for self- sufficiency. Here’s a life of love with the Father, Son and Spirit.

These folks to whom Jesus is speaking are just ordinary folks with no degrees. They are gathered on a hill in Galilee. And they were looking for a Messiah, a purpose, and deliverance. Up to now they were excluded by their world. And Jesus words become a gift to them.

By the way, the narrow way may appear difficult at times. No doubt. But not to worry. Jesus will make sure you get through. All you need is the will to find it.

 

Where Are the Forks?

I find that I often have the same difficulty Paul experienced when he writes in Romans 7 that the good he wants to do he doesn’t do and the bad that he doesn’t want to do is what he often does.

He goes on to say that it is the sin within him that is causing this problem. This is not to say as the comedian Flip Wilson once remarked, “the Devil made me do it.” No, Paul has something more serious in mind. It’s Paul’s own willingness to sin that is the problem. It’s his own ego, his territory that is getting in the way. Once you have set the boundaries on your particular territory you have created a playground for sinful behavior, selfish behavior that may evidence itself in anger, jealousy, pride and worry.

Paul is writing that the only way out of this dilemma is through Christ and the formation of Christ within us. See Galatians 4:19.

Paul even comments at the end of chapter 7, ‘but in the sinful nature I am a slave to the law of sin.’ Or as the Message paraphrase has it, ‘ but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.’ (Vs. 25)

What I prefer to say is that all territory belongs to Christ. I have no King but Christ. I cannot let me ego dictate to me what is right and wrong. All I want is Christ in me and then I can do what Christ would do in my body.

Now last night is an example. I was getting ready for dinner with my wife and noticed there were no forks in the drawer where day by day I would normally find forks. So I mentioned it and my wife said that all the silverware happened to be in the dishwasher. The understanding I got from that, after 45 years of marriage, was that it might be a good think if I, for once, took care of that little issue. Yeah, I got annoyed, thinking that maybe she could have asked me nicely to unload the dishwasher. See, I have my territorial issues. Don’t make inferences about my ineptness when it comes to helping out around the house.

So there I was, wanting to do good but not able. The good, in this case, was just having a nice attitude about the whole thing. Now I could say that some ugly demon was living his life in me but no, that’s not the case. I am my worst demon sometimes. Another word perhaps is ‘selfish’. So I have to enlarge my territory by making it all belong to Christ and then nothing can take me from God’s love not even subtle inferences about my responsibilities.