The narrow door and humble pie
Published 6:22 pm Sunday, March 19, 2023
Flannery O’Connor wrote about Mrs. Turpin, a lady sure of her heavenly destination who did not hesitate to share this with others. Flannery shows us the many faults of Turpin but of course she doesn’t see any of them. At least not until the end of the story when she has a vision.
Turpin sees a crowd of souls moving toward heaven. To her shock, at the head of the line is a group of criminals, followed by poor folks on the other side of the railroad tracks. At the very end of the line, she sees the only group she knows. The only ones who move with dignity. Yet something is wrong. Their feelings of superiority and outward goodness has been stripped away. Only the grace of God allowed them to enter heaven along with the rest.
Turpin has the attributes of a good church-going Christian, yet she is surprised to see herself in the back of the line going to heaven. So, why bother with church? What’s going on here?
Jesus says, “The door to heaven is narrow. Work hard to get in but many will try and fail.” (Luke 13:24) That’s pretty scary. What happened to grace? Grace is there but there is a lingering “Now what?” that implies, “You have been forgiven, given a new start. What will you do with it?”
We have the freedom to choose our destiny however there are consequences. The wide gate is easier with a life free of spiritual responsibilities. Believe anything. Do anything. The narrow door seems more restrictive at first. Some freedoms might be sacrificed but those sacrifices count for something. That is God’s way. Much of what we do involves similar choices.
We make choices when it comes to how we spend our time, our money and what attitude we chose when around other people: arrogant or humble.
Warning! Jesus was talking to religious leaders, people who should know the consequences of making poor choices. Jesus is deliberately talking about a narrow door when speaking to church leaders of that day. People like Mrs. Turpin and her church friends,
Jesus then says: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
Could humility be at the heart of Jesus teaching about the Narrow Door? Humility involves more than good table manners. Humility is a way of life. The answer is not to strive to become one of the humblest persons in the world, then take a selfie and post it on Facebook.
The answer lies on a cardboard sign outside a children’s clubhouse with the rules for belonging in the club: 1. Nobody act big. 2. Nobody act small. 3. Everybody act medium.
Not bad theology. Just act medium, believable, honest, human, thoughtful and down-to-earth, regardless of your social position, your job status, your pile of honors, or your endless list of achievements. Junk any idea that you deserve some kind of pat on the back for a job well done. Who did you do it for anyway? If you did it for God, there are many ways you will be rewarded.
I saw an ad for a company that will deliver and throw a pie in the face of anyone chosen. Does that sound crazy? Picture this: A well-tailored and arrogant preacher comes to the door. A delivery person is there with a special package just for him. Is it a gift? The delivery person with a big smile on his face, opens the box. Before the preacher can say, hallelujah, he whips a pie out of the box and… smash!
The lesson? “A pie in the face brings a person’s dignity down to where it should be and puts the big people on the same level as everyone else.”
Corrie ten Boom said: “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that praise was for him?”
You can’t fake it. False humility stinks worse than conceit. The answer is not in trying to appear worthless yourself but in consistently taking notice of others and their achievements, recognizing their skills, their contributions and their difficulties and saying so.
Remember the rules: Nobody act big. Nobody act small. Everybody act medium. Good advice from a clubhouse of kids. We need to follow that advice before someone decides we need a pie in the face.
Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.