For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. - Matthew 7:14
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, the writer places Jesus on "the mountain" where he begins to teach. The next few chapters contain some of the most moving and important parts of Jesus' ministry and ours. "You are the light of the world." "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." "Pray then in this way: Our Father, …." They also contain a few chestnuts, like the one quoted above from chapter 7. Perhaps you will recognize it a little differently if you read it from an earlier translation, "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." That's right. This is the source of our ideas about sticking to "the straight and narrow."
Is this important in your life?
Maybe it is not. Maybe you would never try to live a "narrow" life. After all, you are no Puritan!
Finding the one set of lessons from parents, lessons from your faith tradition, lessons from school, from literature, from culture, from philosophy, from history can be complex and incomplete. In response to the complexity, some of us collapse the whole problem and grab onto something simpler. Because we've grabbed on, we also have to claim that we've chosen correctly. If you've followed this path, you may find relief from the difficulty of complex and incomplete rules to stay on the straight and narrow. You may also have a tendency to dismiss or denigrate other sets of rules; dismiss or denigrate those who follow truth that is not the truth you have chosen.
Don't do this.
The faith tradition I claim in the United Church of Christ, is one that tends to broadening and deepening – not one that tends to narrowing and completeness. We look to all those sources for inspiration and guidance I mentioned above and we remain open to God who is still speaking, still creating.
Biblical examples are often told to show how the most faithful, the great paragons of our faith story, were true to their root story, their covenant. To read some modern works based on this concept is to read how a church can't go wrong if it emulates the practices of the early church, revealed in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Paul and his ilk to the new Christian communities of the eastern Mediterranean. Or one can read how if a modern church leader or pastor will just follow the leadership lessons of Moses, then all will be well. Also, in this style of narrative, Jesus makes no mistakes and God is perfect.
That's not what the Bible says, though. The early (and later) churches twisted away from the teaching of Paul & Co. Paul himself got a number of things completely wrong. Moses stumbled, David did vile things, and in a couple of instances, Jesus was, shall we say, a little slow on the uptake. …and there's that whole divine "oops" called the flood where God ended up having to promise never to do that again. What the stories really capture is how God is open to us and our positive and destructive twists and turns. God remains engaged with us in this complicated life. The people who told all those stories in the Bible made sure that we would see that even a powerful prophet like Elijah would visit despair and that there, in the midst of despair, God remained engaged. God did not leave Elijah alone.
That is what forgiveness looks like. In practical terms, forgiveness is remaining engaged with someone when there's every reason to turn away. That's who God is in these stories; the one who stays, the one who is there.
That, beloved, is the way you are called to be as well.
No, it is not always possible for you or me to forgive. You should make no mistake about it though, it is what God is hoping for from us, it is what Jesus recommended to us, it is the true north of our moral compass.
Let our longing be to find a way to live life that is connected to the deepest meanings of life. Take up this compass and head on out!