Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14, ESV
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The Road Not Taken
This scripture from the Bible book Matthew reminds me of the famous poem by Robert Frost. The late poet Robert Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry; his work is among the most widely read and often quoted poetry to this day. Listen to it here if you don’t remember it.
“Its signature phrases have become so ubiquitous, so much a part of everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets to graduation speeches, that it’s almost possible to forget the poem is actually a poem. “The Road Not Taken” has been used in advertisements for Mentos, Nicorette, the multibillion-dollar insurance company AIG, and the job-search Web site Monster.com, which deployed the poem during Super Bowl XXXIV to great success.”
What does the poem mean?
The poem’s meaning has been extensively dissected, discussed, and debated; most assign a deep meaning about life, choices, regrets, what-ifs, etc.
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So I was surprised to read that Frost himself didn’t take the poem nearly as seriously as everyone else has. He claimed that he wrote it as a joke for a friend.
At poetryfoundation.org , Katherine Robinson wrote,
“Soon after writing the poem in 1915, Frost griped to Edward Thomas that he had read the poem to an audience of college students and that it had been “taken pretty seriously … despite doing my best to make it obvious by my manner that I was fooling. … Mea culpa.” However, Frost liked to quip, “I’m never more serious than when joking.”
As his joke unfolds, Frost creates a multiplicity of meanings, never quite allowing one to supplant the other. When Frost sent the poem to Thomas, Thomas initially failed to realize that the poem was (mockingly) about him. Instead, he believed it was a serious reflection on the need for decisive action. (He would not be alone in that assessment.) “
What did Jesus mean in Matthew 7?
This scripture is part of the Sermon on the Mount attributed to Jesus (I’ve written other posts about these verses from Matthew chapters 5-7.) It also is widely known and quoted, as well as other verses like the Golden Rule, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Beatitudes.
The overall message of the Sermon is anything but a joke; Jesus makes bold and daring statements in this passage, which explains why it is so widely quoted and taught on. One famous preacher, Oswald Chambers used it often enough that his wife included several selections when she published a collection of his sermons as a daily devotional know as My Utmost for His Highest.
In a devotional titled “All Noble Things are Difficult” for July 7th, he wrote
“The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.
God’s grace turns out men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ, not milksops.”
It is always necessary to make an effort to be noble.”Oswald Chambers
“Milksops. That’s not a word I hear often, I even looked it up and it means exactly what it sounds like. What happens when you dip bread into milk? It gets soggy and falls apart. So a milksop is ” a person who is indecisive and lacks courage.“
Choices, choices, choices
So despite Frost’s assertion that his poem was a joke, multiple commentaries dissect it extensively and assign all kinds of meaning to it, suggesting that we do believe that our choices matter in everything, whether relationships, finances, education, or health.
Doctors and other health professionals now believe that lifestyle is one of the chief determinants of health and emphasize preventing and even treating illness with nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, sleep, healthy habits, and stress management.
Consider the Foundation
Whether you’re building a house, a career, a family, or your health, what you build on matters too. Jesus concluded his sermon with a building lesson.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”Matthew 7:24-27, ESV
Reading these verses reminds me of the rain storms we endured in Oklahoma this past spring leading to extensive flooding with loss of homes and businesses; other parts of the country suffered the same, and now we’re watching coastal areas deal with devastating hurricanes. Once built, we’re pretty helpless to defend our property against the ravages of nature. That doesn’t have to be the case with our health if we build well.
Here’s the story of Oswald Chambers and his wife Biddy. After his death, she collected writings from his lectures and talks into books and the well known devotional mentioned above. In the introduction she wrote,
it is sent out with the prayer that day by day the messages may continue to bring the life and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
exploring faith, hope, and love
Thanks for joining me to explore poetry and scripture; my hope is that this prompts you to further explore on your own. Here are some other posts from this series
Learn more about Lifestyle Medicine from Baylor College of Medicine
“Lifestyle medicine (LM) involves the use of evidence-based therapeutic approaches, such as a predominantly whole food, plant-based diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, and avoidance of risky substance use, to prevent, treat, and, oftentimes, reverse the chronic disease that’s all too prevalent,”