Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
By Amber Noel
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 7:13-21
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
False turns, false prophets, false words. Jesus warns us here that there are many ways to be deceived in this world: by the culturally pre-approved paths set before us, by others (even really nice people), and by our own heads and hearts.
There are moments, maybe, when these words are bracing or energizing, if sobering. But only a spiritual megalomaniac has never been afraid of getting it wrong. I have often been afraid of missing the way, if not by falling headfirst into perdition, then, by a long string of ignorance, minor cowardice, and omission, missing God’s best, missing the very “will of the Father” Jesus talks about. In the denomination I grew up in, we referred to being in “the center of God’s will,” like a bullseye in a dart board. After all, “the gate is narrow… and there are few who find it”! Yet that can feel paralyzing, which is definitely not the will of the Father.
What, exactly, is the will of the Father, then? That we hit a bullseye? Or rather that we “bear good fruit” — produce fat, juicy, nourishing things with our lives: virtues, work done well, relationships that honor God and give life to others? And though it requires discipline and pruning, bearing fruit is messy, biological, and hardly happens in suffocating constriction. It can also be done, for most people, for the most part, in a variety of ways. Though the way might be narrow — as narrow as the branch of a tree — its possibilities are infinite.
And like fruit still hidden in flower or bud, the “rightness” of a particular way may stay hidden for a long time. Situations are murky; we’re half-blind with sin and ignorance (as Jesus reminds us). So, we never start? We’re so silly and distracted and wounded. But God is gracious. And, though the way is narrow, as we hear over and over in Scripture, without fail, he is the way-maker.“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus says, emphasis on the word enter.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, Tenn.
The Diocese of Fredericton (Anglican Church of Canada)