The Gates

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Did AC/DC get it right? Is there really a highway to Hell? The idioms of the bible and Dante’s Inferno are so profoundly ingrained within our psyche that people really struggle with the idea of eternal torture. In today’s portion of the Sermon on the Mount, we examine the metaphor of the wide and narrow gates. Is Jesus making a claim that the vast majority of humanity is on the highway to hell? Or is there something beyond the binary that can liberate us?

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7: 13-14 ESV)

Can I ask you to read this a few times in a contemplative way? 

The Greek moods here are imperative and nominative. I point this out because most of scripture is in the indicative mood. This means Jesus is not describing what is but telling us what to do and pointing us in a specific direction. Indicative passages are descriptions. Imperative and nominative moods are prescriptions. All good scholarship knows the difference and teaches them accordingly. I think much confusion has come to the world from well-meaning but misinformed pastors teaching texts like this as if they were descriptions.

Since this is a prescription, we would do well to pay attention. Jesus is using a binary as is customary when trying to elevate the conscious awareness of people who are not very awake or mature. Like teaching the danger of a hot stove to a toddler, the child need only be aware of the stove’s danger until he or she is old enough to properly wield the fire in order to prepare a meal. Jesus wants to jolt us awake and uses this approach. It is not a statement saying that life can be easily reduced into a simple either/or decision. Transactional religion prefers to operate on this low level, but the greater context of Jesus’ sermon proves he is inviting us beyond this.

The wide (eúrúxoros) gate opens to a wide road which is like that of a multi-lane highway, meaning its broad or very wide. It has a lot of capacity to accommodate the (molùs) many.  Like rush hour, much, great quantities go through the gate (passage way) and end up on the road. The destination is ápóleia (destruction or waste). This term is used a few times in the New Testament to refer to the end result for “objects of wrath” and it also means to waste or smash or break. 

It’s really important this becomes clear in our heads because Jesus is not specifically referencing Hell in this passage nor in the larger context. Hell emerges because people import it into the passage and not without consequence. Jesus emphasis is not the destination, but the gate. It’s like he’s saying “We all go through the wide gate first before we get to the narrow one, don’t stay on the wide road, find the narrow exit ramp.” The wide, open gate is in the aeroist active voice meaning it is the present and ongoing state of the gate. Thus, the caution is to avoid the constantly open gate because it doesn’t shut. The many (polús) refers to the default mode of all of us. A better way to understand “destructionbased on the surrounding context is to blindly follow the trends of the masses and adopt their mindset, principles and institutions which rename us and cause us to miss life and miss finding our true self in God.  Following the false self is a wasted or destroyed life. To not know your true name is destruction.

The contrasting perspective is that of the narrow gate, (stenos) narrow or restricted. The (ódós) road, path, journey, way of life is (thlibo) constricting, crowed against you, causes trouble, but its destination is (zoé) life (as opposed to bios). This is not the base, organic “alive” but the “other” kind of life, often termed eternal or spiritual. Jesus is saying the path to finding your true life is like a turn-stile. You can’t bring anything, no backpack or attachments. You must be stripped by all that crowds against you. It is an arduous, difficult process but we gain our real life.

By creating this binary, Jesus’ admonishment is a life-vest for the distracted and confusing chaos of life. It’s so easy to coast, to seek ease, comfort or immediate gratification. When we do, we forfeit something of the life that is ultimately worth waiting for. We can all crowd at the wide gate and fight for a spot in the express lane, or we can go single file, one after another, in turn toward something that isn’t a waste in the end.

This principle is true in even the most mundane of things like eating lunch. A healthy lunch comes with more constriction and cost, while the meals that make us full of disease come in minutes at little cost. It’s also true for relationships. It’s true for parenting. It’s true for our career. If we want our life to count, then we must count the costs and never cut corners. Pay the price. Undergo the constriction process, be pressed and pulled until that which is worthy emerges in us. We all start in bios, Jesus is leading us to Zoé. 

Rather than describe a culturally contrived hell, Jesus is directing us to pay attention to this “other” dimension of life (zoé). We must get beyond our mere base human existence with its appetites and impulses. If we simply follow our appetites, we follow the herd, get distracted and ultimately lost. The only way to avoid this is the narrow gate. We find this to be a solitary, single-file constricting process. The difficult path is to rise above base existence and pursue real life, through spiritual awakening. 

Like the wide gate, the narrow gate is open and it calls to each of us every single day. In Luke 13:24 Jesus gives similar advice. He says:

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

Jesus is revealing a sobering reality that the finders of the narrow gate are few, or as in the verse in Luke, want to enter but are not able. In two weeks we will explain this further as we read one of Jesus most severe and even frightening passages. For now, he seems to be saying that finding zoé is something that only a few people are able to do. Whether this is based on skill, or will, it doesn’t say. It’s only telling us that the masses miss it. And that seems to be in agreement with my observations in life.

It’s the difficult path, the suffering, the painful arduous journey that opens us up to the reality that we don’t have spiritual lives, but that we are spiritual lives. The carnal, anesthetized, inoculated masses don’t seem to discover this that often. Like a diamond, the rarity makes this a true treasure.

Are we willing to let go of attachments? Are we willing to go it alone? Can we break free of institutions that imprison us? Are we content with bios or do we seek zoé? Animal or human? To be alive or to really live? Will we do the soul work of becoming meek? If so, true life awaits. If not, true life is wasted. May that not be the case for you.

4 thoughts on “The Gates

  1. Hey, Keven, you come up with a lot of serious considerations in a language so confusing you challenge the understanding just by confuscation–giving people the idea they understand when they really cannot, and thereby feeling superior to those who admit they don’t know what the hell you are talking about. This is a very old con game, to make people believe they are in the Inner Circle of a group when in reality they are no more special than anyone else.
    I do have to congratulate you for even trying a con so old almost no one is expecting it to be used again.
    Meanwhile, threatening people to be scared of a loving being is not doing anyone any favours. You are making Jesus out to be some kind of bully, either you do this or I will do that. Bullying is for cowards, like Trump, or the old testament god. He is so full of the need for adulation all he can do is threaten his followers. As we know, you attract more ants with honey than you do with vitriol. I think you should give it a try.

    • Sorry for my delay in replying, I was traveling the last week.
      I can only speculate why you think I’m running a con, nor why if you continually think my content is so confusing yet you feel the need to return to it over and over again. Nonetheless, since you took the time write, I would like to honor your efforts with a reply.
      Yes, the Greek language is highly nuanced and some would say confusing. However, it contains within in it the ability to convey certain things that are often lost in the English translations. Furthermore, I’ve come to realize that many interpretation committees that sell bibles often have certain biases which find their way into their bibles and thus doctrine. This may also be the case with me as an interpreter, however, I do strive to strip away as much of the “spin” as I can to let as much of the original intent shine through as possible. For me this is not coming from a place of superiority, but the fact that I’ve given so much of my life to nerding out on bible scholarship, that I feel I can offer a valuable perspective to those who are interested.
      In this case, I think you have clearly misread my blog because my entire point was to show that Jesus isn’t describing the “Heaven or Hell” dichotomy as it is understood in the ears of the modern hearer. He’s admonishing his hearers to count the cost and enter the narrow gate and constricted path rather than simply coast or skim over the depth of life.
      I thought I did a fairly adequate job of explaining the threat and how to avoid it within this piece, so I’m not sure what con job you are referring to. I’ve never asked for a dime, I have no sponsors, and my audience has no obligation whatsoever to read this. What I offer is only that which I can see and nothing more. Its not perfect, but as a blog it reflects my process in the same way your blog does.
      I am glad that you tune in each week and read my blog. It is also clear that many things I say here are triggers for you that I hope will be examined within your own spiritual practice. I hope that you find healing from that pain body that wants so much to suppress these aspects of the truth. Perhaps in time, you’ll come to accept the way I say things even if it isn’t how you would prefer I say it. it’s a step we all must take if we would model peace and love toward each other.

      • Hi Keven.
        I return because I think you are a smart man. You have something to say, and are trying to say it. However I think HOW YOU ARE SAYING IT IS A CON, not for money, but for minds, heats, etc. You use Godspeak, yet you tell me you are trying to change the definitions of a lot of the words you use. Yet the people you are speaking to do not understand Godspeak as you use it. They are hearing the usual words in the usual way. To me that is disrespecting the people you are talking to. You are saying one thing, they are hearing another. I cannot understand why you would want that to happen.
        I am an atheist, I do not hide the fact. And I too would like to change how people use a word, spirituality. I want it to mean life forces that connect to other life forces. I openly admit that. My problem is that spirituality has a very broad base of defintions already, from ghosts and goblins to religious souls. I know I cannot change that, but I can add to it.
        God and Jesus, on the other hand, are very specific concepts, and to use them brings very specific images to the hearer/reader. I would like to see you be completely honest with your audience. Use words like God-force, or Jesus-force, or something like that, Those at least show a break with religions, and open a freer dialogue. Is that too much to ask?

      • Thank you for clarifying your comments. Perhaps this is a case of me not wanting anyone to abandon the usual words in the usual way, but rather to include a wider usage of them and in so doing return us closer to what I believe is the original intent of the authors. I do understand how we all hold on to the words and their usage because that is how ideas were formed. For example, when I worked in a residential treatment center for abused girls or later in the women’s prison, they struggled with the idea of God as Father. Some pastors and religious teachers simply substituted father for mother or something else which for some was helpful. I tried rather to repatriate the term Father by widening the definition and for many that brought about transformative healing. I recognize what many hearers are hearing and my work strives to enter that space with a new way to hear the same thing. As a Christian, I find no value in replacing Jesus or God with Jesus-force or God-force or any other word that removes the personal, relational aspect of our Maker. I respect your atheistic conclusions and how you may see these things more as a physical, nebulous force rather than personal force, however I am not convinced of that. Thanks again for sharing your perspective, I do welcome it. While I’m not a fan of religion any more than Jesus was, I don’t see it as all bad and needing to be eradicated. I see it more as a school from which we must one day graduate. I hope this helps.

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