The Narrow Gate
by H.H. Pope Shenouda III
In the last part of His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said, "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." (Matt 7:13,14)
The wide gate is the trick of the devil
in his war against man.
The devil may ask you why you live in a narrow circle, and why God tightens the circle around you. He tries to convince you that you can walk in a broad way that has many paths. He tells you that you may realize what you want with a little lie.
He calls it a "white lie" to calm down your conscience. With it he says you can avoid any harm that may result from you telling the truth. He may convince you to take some rest by obtaining a sick leave certification from a physician though you are not actually sick. And he may urge you to cheat in the exam so as to succeed!
The devil says if the way is broad and
easy and leads to purpose, why then should you insist to go by the narrow gate?
Why do you let someone lesser than you prevail over you? Is it because he is
more cunning and more flexible he succeeds?
If the devil says, why do you complicate matters? Take it easy, and everything will go smoothly, tell him that your conscience refuses such an easy way mingled with sin.
A clear example from the Holy Scriptures is the story of Abraham and Lot.
Lot chose for himself the plain that is described as " the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt " (Gen 13:10). And he pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. Our father Abraham chose to be with God, even in the land less watered and less green. And what was the result? Lot was taken captive, with the people of Sodom, and Abraham rescued him (Gen 14). Sodom was burnt and Lot lost everything, but he could escape with his two daughters through the intercession of Abraham.
Actually, the way is broad in its beginning, but its end is destruction. Whereas the narrow gate is narrow in the beginning, but its end is good.
The Scriptures say, " We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God " (Acts 14:22): " Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. " (2Cor 4:17).
Some aspects of the narrow gate:
If one cannot attain such complete renunciation; one may at least do that partially, by paying the tithes and first fruits.One may say: that which I have is not sufficient, how could I pay also the tithes from it? I say to such a person: this is not right, it is that you cannot enter by the narrow gate. You are rebuked by the poor widow who gave out of her poverty (Luke 21:4). You are rebuked also by the widow at Zarephath who gave Elijah the prophet of the little flour and oil she had in the days of famine. So the Lord rewarded her, saying, "The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth" (1Kings 17:14)
Do you not see then that the narrow gate leads to wideness?
This applies to a person who pays the tithes: for the Lord says, "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it" (Mal 3:10). If you do not pay the tithes nor the first fruits: Avoid at least the love of property, the love of the greater portion, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5).
Body-disciplining means keeping away
from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1John
2:16). It means also keeping away from the lust of the senses; the eye that is
not satisfies with seeing, and the ear that is not filled with hearing (Eccl
1:8). Beware fornication of the senses.
Body-disciplining can be realized through fasting and avoiding lust of food.
Even in the fast, when eating only vegetarian food, do not give your body all that it desires. Remember the words of Daniel the prophet, "I was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled" (Dan 10:2,3). Actually, many fast but do not discipline their bodies. Those who eat whatever they desire and do not benefit from fasting! The same applies to those who addict smoking. They smoke even while fasting because they have not yet disciplined their bodies. Thanks to God, there are not many smokers among us.
Unlike it, is holy labor, of which the Psalmist says: "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy" (Ps 26:5). Labor for God's sake has always been the pride of the saints. Some labor in the ministry, like St Paul the Apostle who said, "I labor more abundantly than the all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1Cor 15:10). Some labor in prayer all the night like the hermits and anchorites. Mar Isaac, likewise say: If you are fought with fatigue so as not to pray the Night prayer, be steadfast and pray more psalms.
To this applies also labor in doing one's duty, as the labor of Nehemiah and his men building the wall of Jerusalem. The same can be said of the labor of any student to attain success, and as the poet says: "For desires of great souls, bodies labor much".
One who enters by the narrow gate and labors, will certainly rejoice at the fruit. Whereas one who does not labor will repent, as the poet says to such a person: "If you do not sow; in the time of reaping you will be sorrowful for missing the time of sowing"
One of the holy fathers, explaining the words of the Lord, "whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matt 5:39) said that the other cheek is the inner self. It means that when someone offends you, rebuke yourself without any opposition between your inner self and your outward action. Say to yourself, for example, that unless I had offended him, or unless he had misunderstood my conduct he would not have become angry. Or say to yourself unless I had lost him love, he would not have done so.
It is reported that the holy Pope
Theophilus once visited the Mount of Nataria (where the anchorites live). He
asked the father of the place: What virtues, father, have you attained
throughout your life? The father answered him:
Believe me father, there is nothing better than to blame one's self for everything.
However, many try always to justify themselves and blame the others. Such a person who is righteous or wise in his own eyes hardly can blame himself.
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