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Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Narrow Gate and the Poor in Spirit

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).

From John 13:35, 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:22-23, what is supposed to “mark” the Christian? What can you do to make your mark more visible? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1164).

John 13:35 NIV: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, you love one another.”

From 1 Corinthians 13: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV: But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Saturday I was talking in the backyard with my Christian neighbor. I offered that though Christians are often taken to be narrow-minded, they in fact are not so because they believe that God’s will is more important than self-will. That is, Christians must always be tentative in the sense that they must always remain open to God’s will which can differ from their own. My neighbor, sensing my mind was open to the extent that wind was blowing through from ear to ear, asserted with some irritation that as a Christian he could be very narrow-minded.

This got me to thinking about Jesus vis-à-vis the scribes and Pharisees. For example, despite religious laws against it, Jesus performed work on the Sabbath – such as when healing the afflicted. This angered the scribes and Pharisees. This is a clear case where adherents to both positions on the matter thought they were doing God’s will. Jesus was doing the will of his heavenly father in perfect form. The scribes and Pharisees were going by their best lights. Here’s a case where both positions could not be right, even though both were firmly held by the deeply religious. In this sense both Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees held narrowly to their positions. But we can clearly see a difference between the two positions when a practical test regarding temporal benefit is applied. In one case the immediate well-being of the afflicted was helped and in the other case it was harmed—even though the scribes and Pharisees would no doubt argue that breaking a religious commandment was a sin and therefore harmful. We must return to pragmatism and the admonition of Christ that: by their fruit you shall you know them. Jesus set the example: he transgressed a religious law for immediate and tangible benefit.

So I must conclude that like my neighbor I can be very narrow-minded. I believe that the interest of individuals must precede everything else. The vulnerable as illustrated in the Sermon on the Mount are to be blessed. At the same time we can see that the scribes and Pharisees were also vulnerable but in a different way. They were vulnerable due to their self-righteousness. Jesus found it hard to help this type of vulnerability for it builds up walls against the grace of God.

As I as I have discussed in other blogs, all Christians can agree on what I quoted here from Scripture regarding the essential importance of love. We can sit together in church and all say “Amen” to the Scriptures just quoted—while at the same time differencing dramatically on such current issues as gun control, alcohol consumption, same-sex marriage, abortion, and the proper role of government—all areas where narrow-mindedness with a vengeance is common. We can ask what good is Christianity if it does not command uniformity on such issues? My answer is that the implications of love inescapably must factor in diverse perceptions, and that self-will inescapably plays a role in the interpretation of divine will. That is, divine will is filtered through the human frame and that with only Jesus was this done perfectly. For mere mortals complete self-confidence in one's total adherence to God’s will is here denied and our behavior always commands regular confessionals both individually and collectively. Our thoughts, words, and deeds (both in omission and commission) require the regular forgiveness of the Eternal.

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