Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7: 15-20
Reflection – So we’re heading into the home stretch here, today and tomorrow wrapping up our exploration of the sermon on the mount and the light of faith it sheds on our lives. Judging by my blog traffic and facebook chatter, people haven’t minded too much this long leisurely stroll through the scriptures and the challenges and blessings they hold for us.
Here, we have a challenge. Not everything that seems good, is good. If something seems too easy and too good to be true, well – it usually is. Jesus and the Gospel he preaches are good indeed beyond our imaginings, but far from easy. People offering salvation on the cheap and grace for nothing are lying to you. The Lord tells us the gate is small and the path narrow that leads to life, and He is not a liar.
‘By their fruits you will know them.’ This really is the best test. And the fruits of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5 are easily distinguished from the works of the flesh, also in Galatians 5. The Spirit yields “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5: 22). The flesh yields “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing” (Gal 5: 19-20). Hmmm…. that’s a tricky discernment between flesh and spirit… uh, not.
Now the word of God is forever, right, abiding and true. If we are Christians, it is so. It is interesting that Paul certainly includes things we can all mostly agree are manifestations of the flesh: factions, quarrels, jealousy, envy, dissensions. But also, drunkenness and carousing. Sorcery and idolatry. And he begins the list with serious sexual sin, an unpopular way to distinguish the absence of the Spirit in today's permissive world. All these things indicate that the Holy Spirit is not with this person, and that, in Sermon on the Mount terms, this person is not a true prophet and should not be heeded.
This does not mean the person is bound for hell, right? God is merciful and we are all sinners before Him. Who knows all the paths of God’s merciful love in the world? But it does mean that there is no prophetic spirit, no guidance into the truth of God to be found in that quarter.
It is the fruits of the Spirit we are to look for. Love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. I have to be honest: this is what drew me to Madonna House in the first place—I saw this present in abundance in this community, even though it was made up of ordinary sinful schmucks just like me. God was nice enough to give me the vocation, and so I still see it here, and the guests who come to us tell us they see it here, too. Not to be tooting my own vocational horn—I don’t care if you who are reading this ever come here or not. But my point is, look for the people and places that manifest the Spirit’s fruits and are mostly free of the flesh’s fruits. We occasionally have a quarrel or two even here in Madonna House! Nobody’s perfect. But gravitate towards the people and places that are manifestly Spirit-led, and listen to them.
Avoid the people who tell you what you want to hear, and who make it all sound like an easy program with Three Easy Steps™ to new life, or rot like that. That’s not the Gospel. The Gospel is a life time of steps walked in the bloody footprints of Jesus to Calvary, ceaseless choices of death to self and life for others spent in love and in joyful surrender to God. Not easy, not painless, but oh so good, oh so beautiful, oh so glorious. That’s the narrow path, and it’s the only one there is that leads us anywhere we want to go. Jesus said so, and he’s not a liar.