“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”
What I love about the words of Jesus is that they are, most of the time, self explanatory. But on closer inspection you’d be amazed out how we can discover new things.
This morning I looked up the Greek word used for “Narrow” in my ancient Greek Dictionary. Yes, I’m a big nerd. The Greek word used is “θλίβω” English transliteration “thlibō” and phonetically pronounced as “thlee’-bo“.
The word Thlibo means “narrow” but also means suffering and tribulation and a sense of trouble. In fact in this passage Jesus uses two Greek words for narrow. One is “Stenos” which he uses at the beginning of the passage and the other is “thlibo” which he uses for the word a second time which also means narrow yet much different to stenos.
He really wants to emphasize to all of us that the narrow way isn’t pleasant. The spiritual life is not one full of pleasantries and in order to gain any kind of spiritual progress one must meet with the narrow path that lies within himself. He must shed his skin of the world and become a new creature, a new creation.
The shedding of all attachments including that of sin isn’t a road easy to find and when found a path one can stray from with much less effort than it takes to remain on it. There are those of us who do not find the path because truth be told we are not looking for it. We don’t want the uncomfortable truth and to remain in the comfort of the small world we inhabit seems more delightful to us. Those who do look for it but don’t find it is usually due to an attachment to sin and lack of faith.
I get it, why can’t loving God and living life be getting up every morning, enjoying your morning coffee and having a lovely day? Why does the road have to be full of trials, tribulations and suffering? That’s like the man complaining the sky is blue. “Why does the sky have to be so blue? Why can’t we call it black or purple?” But the reality he has to face at the end of the day is that the Sky is blue.
That’s the reality we have to face also is that the narrow road of trial and tribulations exist. Like the man who wants to label the sky purple we can hide behind our creative imagination all day about how we’d like the world to turn, but it would never change reality. Instead of hiding behind the creative imagination of new age religions that try to eliminate suffering it’s important we face the uncomfortable truth that suffering be it physical, spiritual or mental will always be a reality we face.
What we need to change is not the suffering or the narrow road, but our attitude towards the suffering and how we perceive the narrow road. I’m not saying we should go looking for suffering or that we should not alleviate the pain of ourselves or another, only that we change our attitude towards it.
For example two men have a headache. The one is complaining and upset about it, while the other endures it with a quiet humility about him and although he’s suffering he’s not entirely unhappy. His sorrow is sort of mingled with joy as he offers it to the Lord for the salvation of others. The former has been trained by the culture to view his suffering with disdain whereas the latter has been trained by the Holy Spirit to put a value on it and not allow it to rule his emotions. Yes, he’s walking that narrow path full of trial and tribulation and doing it with joy knowing where it leads.
That kind of person is a rare find and so as Jesus says, few there are that find that narrow path. It’s easier to complain and stay on the path that leads to perdition of soul. The path to spiritual perdition never looks scary and difficult. If it did appear this way the devil would never use it as it would fool nobody.
The path that is wide and spacious is full of life’s short thrills and you’re constantly going around in circles from happy to sad trying to fill the void with life’s empty worldly pleasures. There’s no moral compass in the desert of secularism where the mirage of the pleasurable life is ever present. It draws you in and by the time you get there it disappears and another mirage appears as a source of temptation. Not learning your lesson from the first, you easily fall for it a second time.
Few there are that find the narrow path but that doesn’t mean Jesus purposefully hides it. It’s not a hidden path. The reason why it appears hidden and difficult to find is because the dark cloud of our ignorance and personal sin engulfs us. Remove the cloud, and you’ll see the path. How? Start with Confession, Eucharist, prayer, fasting (if capable) not to mention learning to come to grips with some uncomfortable truths. We must face the dirt within our own souls. And like water shapes the rough edges of a rock over time, with prayer, the cloud of ignorance will disperse enough for you to get a glimpse of the narrow path that leads to life.
Don’t go looking for suffering, but embrace it when it comes. Accept that only through engaging with the reality that while heaven can be experienced here, only through the narrow path of trouble, trial, tribulation and the Cross can it be fully realized in the life hereafter. In this world the glass is only ever half full. This is not your home. Think of it as a three star hotel where the Bed feels nice to sleep on but you’ll always have that brick wall for a view outside your window.