Therefore, everyone who hears these word of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matthew 7:24).
The city of Atlanta is ringed by a massive interstate highway known in these parts as ‘the perimeter’ – I-285. This highway was supposedly completed in 1969. As best I can tell, they’ve never stopped working on it.
These days along the part of I-285 that is closest to my house mobile electronic signs are constantly flashing a familiar warning: some variation of “Weekend Road Work. 3 Lanes closed.” Interpreted, the sign says “Do not dare come this way between Friday night and Monday morning.” At the very least, the flashing sign is an invitation to do some creative driving. What route will I choose to avoid that stretch of highway? Sadly, the alternative routes I choose are often no better than the highway, but that doesn’t keep me from trying.
In his highly regarded book on the Sermon on the Mount, The Divine Conspiracy, the late Dallas Willard states that “Jesus seemed to understand that we would do almost anything to avoid simply doing what he said” (p. 274). The words of Jesus are widely admired. To a lesser extent, perhaps, they are believed. But the degree to which they are practiced is another matter. Indeed, the believers are often most adept at avoidance strategies.
This isn’t surprising. Before concluding his ‘sermon’ Jesus acknowledged that the way of life he was describing was a “narrow way.” When it comes to the weekend road work near my house, I would do almost anything to avoid the narrow way. That’s why Dallas Willard’s statement gets my attention.
Believing what Jesus says isn’t the problem. Practicing what Jesus says is where we run into trouble. Willard is calling us out, naming our tendency to look for alternative routes. We are good and finding reasons why we cannot do what Jesus has said.
The life to which Jesus calls us is a narrow way – but ‘narrow’ does not mean ‘blocked.’ We are prone to admire the Sermon on the Mount while at the same time dismissing it as unreasonable; rather than discipleship, we practice ‘dismissal-ship.’ Admiration without application.
Here on the threshold of the Sermon on the Mount we would do well to know our excuses. Let’s name them for what they are. Don’t forfeit the game before stepping on the field. Take a step on this narrow way and ask for grace to walk it. That’s the only way this way can be traveled.
As you read through Matthew 5-7, are there specific teachings that seem beyond your capacity to follow or practice? Why do you think so? Be honest about where you’ve come up with avoidance strategies.
How easy it is, O God, to admire the things you say without believing that we can actually live according to your word. Forgive us for our excuses, our quest for alternatives to your narrow way. Help us to obey, living in your power, doing what we could never do on our own. Live your life through us today, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.