Strait and narrow
“He used to be a junkie, now he’s on the straight and narrow” we say. And by that we mean that he’s cleaned up his act. Now he’s behaving.
When Jesus coined the phrase “strait and narrow” He didn’t quite mean it like that.
This is what He said:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
It’s a saying that brings the sermon on the mount into its concluding phase. We have been introduced to the kingdom through the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). We’ve been told of our counter-cultural identity as disciples (Matthew 5:13-16). In the longest section of the sermon, we’ve been taught the way of Christ as the fulfilment of the law (Matthew 5:17-7:12). Now Jesus will conclude by laying before us two ways for the listener to respond.
There are two gates (v13)
There are two paths (v14)
There are two trees (v17)
There are two houses (v24-27)
In each pair there is one that represents the pathway of life, the other is the way of destruction.
At this point it would be easy to conclude that the right way is the way of doing good and the wrong way is the way of doing bad. Yet when we consider the rest of the sermon, that cannot be the teaching. The rejected way of life throughout the sermon has not simply been unrighteousness. Far more it has been self-righteousness. It is the Scribes and Pharisees who Jesus has had in His sights ever since Matthew 5:20. Such people give and pray and fast – and love to do so (Matthew 6:1-18). Jesus’ hearers would have identified them as the best of the best. But in the context we need to see that Jesus puts them on the broad road to destruction.
Thus the “strait and narrow” is not about cleaning up our acts and behaving better. Jesus is calling us to a whole new path. Not unrighteousness and not self-righteousness. The narrow road is a way of Christ-righteousness.
It is the path that Jesus trod – whose righteousness surpassed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). Ultimately only Jesus can walk this road. Later in Matthew He would make that point very memorably. Our chance of travelling this path is as likely as getting a camel through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). “Who then can be saved?” ask the disciples. Jesus answers, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25)
In Jesus, God makes the impossible possible. Jesus walks the path and then Jesus becomes the path for us. He is the Door (John 10:7) and He is the Way (John 14:6). And He invites the unrighteous and the self-righteous to renounce their own way and to join Him.
The “strait and narrow” is not about moving from immorality to morality. It’s about moving from self-sufficiency to Christ-dependence. And few there are that find it!