“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” (Matthew 7:13-14 NRSV).
As I write this I am in a small town in the mountains of Nepal, at the beginning a a major trekking route in the Himalayas. We are approximately 60 miles at most from Katmandu, the capital of Nepal from where we began our journey. That trip took us eight hours in a private four-wheel drive SUV. The car was fine and the driver was skilled. But, oh, that road!
I have been here and to similar places in Nepal many times and know what to expect. But it is still something of a nerve-wracking experience to drive over rough rocky tracks carved into the mountainsides, sometimes having been rebuilt many times over landslide damage. Meeting a bus with one side of your vehicle seeming to hang off over a sheer drop is just not fun.
I have somewhat jokingly told people in the past that the only reason the roads we drive aren’t featured on “The World’s Most Dangerous Roads” is that they cannot get the camera crew up to film them. That may not be entirely a joke.
Why would one travel such hard and potentially dangerous roads? There is really only one logical reason – because the destination makes it worthwhile. If you want to go somewhere special, and the only way to reach it is by a hard road, that is what you do.
I think we may misunderstand Jesus’ lesson in the text cited above. He is not really talking about the choice between easy and hard. Rather he is talking about the choice between destination and journey. If our concern is for an easy trip, we will choose that, even if it does not lead us to the place we might prefer to go.
If on the other hand we want to go to a certain place which can only be reached with hardship and difficulty, then we simply pay the price and go on hard roads.
Ask almost anyone who takes the question seriously, “Do you want to go to heaven or to hell?” The answer will be unanimous, “Heaven of course.” Jesus knew that just as do we. But ask, “Are you willing to deny yourself, take up his cross, and follow him, knowing that you will spend eternity in heaven?” Or, “Would you suffer persecution and be ostracized by friends and family to follow Jesus?” Not so many will quickly respond with a yes to those questions.
Jesus understood basic human nature. He knew that the vast majority are more interested in a comfortable journey than a prime destination. That is, they want pleasure and ease in this life, whatever that may cost them eternally.