Wednesday, April 15th
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.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the 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. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
The Witness of Scripture:
One of the bewildering questions of this strange time, whether spoken or unspoken, is “What is life going to be like after all of this is over?” To think that things will be as they were before seems to me to be more than just a bit naïve. For instance, we are going to greet each other differently. Dr. Fauci has recently remarked that handshaking may very well be a thing of the past. And who will ever take going to the store for granted? And there are so many other ramifications as to how this time has changed us. More than ever before, we are aware that life has many risks to it.
I think that was one of the underlying themes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. His words seem to call us to recognize the fact that life is full of risks, and the question is “for what will we risk our lives?” In a very candid way, Jesus calls attention to the difficulties and risks inherent in being his disciple. He talks about how disciplined and attentive we must be, and says, in effect, that narrow-mindedness need not be considered a criticism, but a compliment. Narrow-mindedness? My heavens, I’ve never liked being thought of as narrow-minded, have you? But today Jesus tells us that such a perspective is necessary for the Kingdom of Heaven.
This unsettling command reminds me of an equally unsettling scene in C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Silver Chair. In that chronicle of the place called Narnia, a girl by the name of Jill finds that she has been transported to a strange land. She is lonely, hungry and thirsty, but then sees a stream with a lion resting next to it. For anyone who has read any of the Chronicles of Narnia, we know that the lion is Aslan, the great lion of God. “May I . . . could I . . . would you mind going away while I drink,” said Jill. The Lion answered with a look and a very low growl and as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. “Do you promise not to do anything to me if I do come?” said Jill. “I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor if it were sorry, nor if it were angry. It just said it . . . “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh, dear!” cried Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand . . .”
Lewis captures the courage and the discipline required to enter the Kingdom. No one exemplified that with more fortitude than Eric Liddell. He was the subject of an Academy Award-winning movie of several years ago, Chariots of Fire. The movie is an interesting, and true, story of Liddell, a Scotsman, a world-class sprinter, who also happened to be a world-class Christian. In the 1924 Olympics, Liddell was the favorite to win the 100-meter dash. However, as luck would have it, the race was to be run on Sunday. Liddell, a devout Christian, had refused his entire career to run on Sundays, and in 1924 he refused to run on Sunday, even with the arm-twisting efforts of the Prince of Wales, who was chairman of the British Olympic Committee. However, at the last minute, he was given the opportunity to run a different race, the 400 meters, on a different day. He won the race and was the toast of the British Isles.
Interestingly enough, at the height of his athletic career, Liddell gave it up to return to China to be a missionary. His twenty years in China were eventful, to say the least, ending with confinement in a World War II civilian internment camp. David Michell, a child who survived the camp, was imprisoned with him after they were both captured by the Japanese. Michell later wrote about Liddell, remembering his standing out among the 1800 people packed into a camp that measured only 150 yards by 200 yards. Liddell was in charge of the building that housed the younger children, children who had been away from their parents for nearly four years. Liddell had a 3’ by 6’ space to himself, and was responsible for the daily roll call when the guards came to count them. Michell remembers Liddell fondly as “Uncle Eric,” a man with a gentle face and a warm smile. He taught sports, and he taught the Bible, but most of all, he lived as a disciple of Jesus. Liddell died just months before the liberation of that camp. He was buried in a little cemetery with others who had died during the internment. Michell says almost as an eulogy, “None of us will ever forget this man who was totally committed to putting God first, a man whose humble life combined muscular Christianity with a radiant godliness that became contagious.”
In the days ahead God has called us to do important things for the Kingdom. But it won’t be easy. As Jesus states so clearly, “When the winds and the rain come . . .” There will be difficult times, but that is part of the glorious challenge. Therefore, in the words of the great preacher, Phillips Brooks, “Do not pray for easy lives. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers that are equal to your tasks.”
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- Can you bring to mind someone who has been a model of courageous faithfulness in your own life? Thank God for them. What was it about their commitment that could be instructive for you today?
- Pray for those who are taking great risks in order to care for and provide for others during these perilous days.
- Consider the road ahead for you personally, and ask God to empower and encourage you for the journey.
A Guide for Prayer: Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB, “The Blessing of Discomfort”
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.