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The Road is Hard

 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

This teaching calls to mind the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. One or more of these cardinal “sins” come easily to most of us. Jesus says, “…the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction.” Many agree that these sins lead to destruction, at least in the sense of bringing negative consequences. The unfortunate results impact both the person committing them and those with connected lives.

As if succumbing to one or more of the deadly sins is not easy enough, our society encourages and rewards many of these behaviors. We are told to take pride in our accomplishments; yet, there is a fine line between feeling proud of something we participated in and displaying an arrogant superiority over others. We are forever tempted to consume beyond our needs or means, leading to the sin of greed. “Sex sells” in advertising, but it is not the sort of sex that occurs as a healthy expression of a long-term, loving relationship. Lust is what sells products. Envy, gluttony, and wrath are center stage in movies and television. Sloth, or laziness, is a constant temptation for me on weekends when I often prefer stretching out for a nap to doing whatever else may need to be done. Jesus tells us that, easy as these behavioral choices may be, they lead to “destruction.” In the current context, this means they do not put us on “the road that leads to life.”

Most of us who have lived beyond middle age can attest that few thing in life worth having come easily, quickly, or without disciplined effort. Often, we must sacrifice a short-term reward in order to receive a greater reward over the longer term. This may be what Jesus refers to when he says, “…the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.” He adds, “…and there are few who find it.” This means, in my paraphrase, that many people do not apply the contemplative intentionality required to build a life worth living throughout its course. The alternative way is simply too easy and enticing. As we grow older, there is often an element of regret for the “sins” of our past. We may wish we had lived more beneath our means, saving more for our later years. On the other hand, we may wish we had enjoyed our resources more freely, instead of being overly miserly. Certainly, we may wish we had spent fewer hours at work and more with family and friends. We make choices about our lives every day, and Jesus’ warning about the wide and narrow gates is encouragement to make our choices consciously.

Am I suggesting that Jesus does not want us to enjoy our lives on earth, that we should always seek the more restrictive and less pleasurable path, or that we should never just relax? Certainly not! I suspect what Jesus has in mind is to practice a more contemplative approach to our choices in life, gazing beyond the single step in front of us to assess where that particular step is likely to lead. A few chapters after this passage, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30). Following Jesus should not be tortuous, but we may have to exchange certain forms of gratification today for more wholesome rewards tomorrow. As we learn to find joy in the simple pleasures offered each moment, the road becomes easier.

The road that leads to life is hard, but not because it was created that way. The good road is hard because we so easily fall prey to get rich quick schemes, lose weight without diet or exercise programs, and sin without consequence temptations. The ecological maxim that there is no such thing as a free lunch is as true today as it ever has been, but only because an acceptable lunch today is so expensive in terms of its long-term consequences. Free graces abound in every moment for those with eyes to see the road that leads to life.

This is the 26th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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