“For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7.14 NRSV)
There is this idea, because of this verse, that being a Christian should be difficult and hard and to that effect the church has through the centuries created different sets of rules that one must adhere to to be allowed to call oneself a Christian.
Conservatives have had one set of rules based on their canon within the canon and progressives and liberals a different set of rules. And everyone is accusing everyone else of cherry picking, that is picking what biblical reference to use as basis for their particular brand of Christianity. Some have made the path easier (broader) and some harder. Some have even endeavoured to make the path impossible and argued that it should be, so that one must rely on grace to make it.
I am asking myself if the whole idea of a rulebook and these litmus tests of orthodoxy and orthopraxy is just missing the point. Jesus for one did not deliver a list of dos and don’ts or beliefs for us to adhere to. Paul writes that “everything is allowed”.
For most of us this seems terrifying, to not have a set of rules or blueprint on what it takes to “make the cut”. Freedom it seems is the scariest concept of all.
I think there is another way, away from the rulebooks and litmus tests. I think it is much sampler and also much harder than that.
I think Jesus points to another way, the path of love. This is the one and only rule, the core of the gospel.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22.34-40 NRSV)
What would a person that loves themselves do?
What would a person that loves their neighbour do?
What would a person that loves god do?
Here I hear the conservative orchestra chiming in that one who loves god follows god’s commands. I agree but didn’t Jesus say in that text that all commands are summed up in these two statements?
Let’s see if we can make it clearer.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.34-35)
I don’t think it gets any clearer. Our vocation is to love simply because god is love and god is made manifest when we love one another. Our purpose is not to hold each other accountable or to create elaborate systems of belief that must be taken on to be a disciple, a follower of the way. Love is the core, the juice of the divine, the essence of all.
But it’s to easy someone in the back shouts, cheap grace, I hear muttered by someone sitting close by.
What is easier, to love your gay neighbour or to exclude them and say they are not like us, not worthy? What is easier, to love the smelly and dirty homeless person begging on the street or to pass by and pretend they whereat there?
What is easier, inclusion or exclusion? Love or hate? Judgement or grace?
Maybe the narrow gate is the gate of love and grace, maybe the call is so simple that many miss it simply because it seems to simple (not to easy) and maybe we choose the more elaborate and difficult constructs of law and prohibition, denial of desire because it is easier to exclude, easier to have a blue print than to actual step out into freedom and love?
What if we where to make love our one and only rule starting with loving ourselves?
I am willing to try, are you?