“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus told his disciples. I’ve been thinking about this narrow gate for a long time, bewildered that God would make a small entrance into his kingdom on purpose to keep people out. Jesus says the only way to the Father is through the Son, that the Son is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and so the way is very narrow, the gate only Jesus.
The verses that wrap around this short passage of Scripture instruct the followers of Jesus not to judge others, to knock and the door will be opened, to judge a tree by its fruit, to watch out for hollow disciples who say “Lord, Lord,” but don’t practice what they preach, to build on a solid foundation and not a foundation of sand. They come on the heels of the beatitudes and conclude the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
I’ve been reading the narrow gate verses as morality warnings: do the right things, and you can enter; do the wrong things, and you’ll be left out. But what “things” are we actually talking about here? What message has Jesus preached all throughout the gospels? Does he lead with the law, or with love?
Which brings me to this question: Why is there a gate in the first place?
There needs to be a gate because humans love to build walls. We build walls and fences to keep the unwanted out. Every brick and block is a “thou shalt not” we stack—thou shalt not be this color, this gender, this sex, this poor, this hungry, this smart, this nationality, this sinful, this class, this disabled, this political party. Brick by brick, we define who is allowed in and who must stay out. The walls grow ever higher. We perch on top, legs dangling, and scoff at those who can’t scale the fence to enter.
The Pharisees spent the entire gospel story trying to catch Jesus. Their laws hung on the walls, plain as day, but somehow Jesus kept evading them. “The law says… what do you say?” they asked. They wanted to trap him and say, “Ah, see? You’re breaking the law.” But Jesus knew a different way, a way past the walls. A way beyond the fences.
Jesus installed a gate through all of our “thou shalt nots.” It’s narrow, because there is just one great thing that is required to pass through all of that judgment: Love. The way is narrow. It’s one God wide.
The narrow gate opens to a broad field of freedom, rolling hills of mercy, forests of grace. On the other side of the gate is unconditional love, love that is wide and long and high and deep (Ephesians 3:17-19). Forget those walls: There is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
That’s the paradox of the narrow gate. “Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus instructed his followers. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). What gates and roads does the world recommend we take for success? Power and corruption trample over innocents and deprive the weak of food, shelter, and freedom to stock the wealthy’s storehouses with more money than they know what to do with. The paths of the world preach fear and hate. They spin conspiracies and poison water. They perpetuate lies and evade justice. They use the lives of others to advance their own agendas. They tell anyone who will listen, “Be afraid,” “Watch out,” “Be outraged.” The paths of power are broad and the gates of hate are wide.
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life,” Jesus declares, “and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He tells his followers they will have trouble in this world, but they should take heart: Jesus has overcome the world and its walls (John 16:33). He says through him there is an abundant life (John 10:9-10). He says in him there is freedom (Luke 4:18). He calls the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure at heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness blessed. Actively blessed. Loved by God. Inheritors of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5).
The narrow gate isn’t barred by a list of rules and laws you have to answer correctly before entering—that’s the walls on either side. The narrow gate is open to those who ask, seek, and knock. It is through this narrow gate that we discover the most expansive, inclusive path of love.
The narrow gate is narrow because it is hard to knock down the walls we’ve constructed, walls thick with prejudices and discriminations, hatred and fears. It is hard to chisel loose the junk that’s cemented there and dump it at the foot of the cross. But there’s a narrow gate of love that welcomes us in, calls us to set the dynamite against our walls and detonate. The narrow gate of love asks us to surrender our guarded opinions over to the Lord so that he can make that whitewashed wall bright with the graffiti of mercy, redemption, and love.