Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Enter By The Narrow Gate

Abram and Lot were kinfolk, and they were shepherds. In those times, shepherds were nomads. They moved often from one place to another, looking for fresh grazing for their flocks. They were very successful at their occupation, a very important one at that place and time. Sheep provided wool, which was made into garments; they were also the principal source of animal protein in the nomad’s diet, which is one reason the meal the Hebrews shared before they began their journey to the Promised Land was lamb.

Eventually, Abram and Lot had acquired so much wealth and so many possessions that they started to squeeze each other out. Even their hired help began to quarrel. It became obvious that their partnership was coming to an end, and they would soon go their separate ways.

So Abram said to Lot, "Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left."

Lot looked about, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the land of Egypt. So, Lot chose for himself the entire Jordan watershed and set out toward the east, and pitched his tents near Sodom. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Abram went in the opposite direction, toward the land of Canaan. The land was not as fertile as the Jordan watershed, but the LORD blessed Abram, and his people flourished there, as did his flocks. A central concern of the story of Abram is his eagerness to do God’s will, regardless of the cost. At this point in the story, all he risks losing by giving Lot first choice of land. But, at the end of the day, Abram will be rewarded for his humble and generous gesture, offering Lot the first choice. Lot, on the other hand, would become involved in the sinful behavior of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. But that is, you might say, is another story.

Today’s gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. It includes three maxims of Jesus. The first “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw pearls before swine, lest they be trampled underfoot, and the swine turn and tear you to pieces” reminds us that a follower of Jesus must be discerning. For instance, I believe that a true disciple must witness to the good news by example, rather than by speech. The Pharisees were very adept at preaching the word of the LORD, but they were not very good at following the second of Jesus’ precepts in today’s gospel: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Jesus concludes his lesson to the disciples with another set of instructions: “Enter through the narrow gate, for the road and the gate that are wide lead to destruction.” One way is narrow and steep, and only a few find it. The road sign over the broad gate reads, “This way to happiness, to Paradise, to Sodom”, but that road ends in the bitter waters of the Dead Sea, which now sits where once Sodom and Gomorrah flourished. The sign over the narrow gate says, “Not for the faint of heart” but it leads to eternal joy.

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