"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
- Matthew 7:13-21
Currently we are in the midst of reading through the Sermon on the Mount. It began with the reading from Monday, April 18th, The Beatitudes. In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." My study bible tells us that the description of the two ways was widespread in Judaism (see Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Proverbs 4:14-18, 12:28, 15:24; Wisdom of Sirach 15:17). It is also prominent in early Christian writings such as the Didache and Barnabas. Luke's version (Luke 13:24-30) has an eschatological focus and refers to the end of the age. Because Christ's teachings lead us to wrestle against sins and human weaknesses as well as spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12), to enter the Kingdom is the more difficult way.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." My study bible tells us that because they can easily deceive others, those who put on a show of virtue or religion are more dangerous than those who are evil outright. Therefore, we must be all the more cautious among those who are outwardly virtuous. John the Baptist made the same statement as that of verse 19 here: "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." In this sense, we see eschatological content strewn within the active teachings He gives us; a very picture, once again, of the Incarnation. In this case, He's giving us words to teach us the importance discernment and an understanding of the heart.
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Jesus continues with an eschatological theme, thus giving the Sermon on the Mount the fullness of His identity. Here He calls Himself Lord, which refers to the divine name "Yahweh" of the Old Testament. He also speaks of the will of My Father, which He fully knows and shares. And He clearly speaks of Himself as Judge, which reveals His divine nature: only God can execute true judgment.
The narrow gate and the way that leads to life are the teachings Jesus has given in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus sets a pathway for the "way of life" for all of us, by laying out the way of life of the Kingdom, even as we live in this world. Life is not meant by this mission of Christ to be divided up into the present and the eschatological future, or a separate heaven from earth. Rather, the Incarnation itself is a picture of Christ's mission to us: to teach us to live the ways of the Kingdom as we live our worldly lives day by day, and to anchor that Kingdom in this world, even as He teaches us to pray to God the Father that "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In today's reading there are notes of eschatology, Judgment, the great "crisis" (in the Greek sense of that word) in which all comes together. And what that teaches us, though, is the eschatology that is also in the midst of the here and now, not only in the midst of His teachings to us and our awareness of the importance of discernment, but also actively at work in His ministry and mission to us. Jesus not only connects the divine and the human in His being, but a part of that Incarnation is the intersection of eternity and worldly time. Everything is connected to this central moment of Judgment and of His return. We mustn't consider it a "someday" moment, but rather a living part of how we live the life of the Kingdom and how it lives in us. Clearly the active work of the Spirit is that which will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment as Jesus will say at the Last Supper; something at work in our midst since Pentecost. To understand, therefore, His teachings about the way of life and the way of death is to understand the truth of the heart and what we choose to love most and best. Human hearts can be hidden, but as He teaches we are to be discerning, and to understand the fruit of the Spirit -- as well as to observe the fruits of "ravenous wolves." He calls on us to bear the responsibility for discernment, not to follow anyone that calls us or just "sounds good." He will give us the Spirit to help. But once again, as in yesterday's reading, we note the responsibility that He confers on His followers, the trust He invests in us to do this. We must also take note that this is the same sermon in which He teaches us to "judge not, that you not be judged" (yesterday's reading). Judgment and discernment are entirely different things; one does not preclude the other. One He prohibits and the other He commands. Let us understand the active work of the Kingdom in the here and the now. Judgment is not a far away, someday event; it is at work among us, within us, proving out all things, actively seeking and knocking, and mingled with the choices we each make even today. Let us remember this narrow and difficult way, and bear the fruit of the Spirit even as we live the life of the Kingdom in this world.