Sowing Seeds — The narrow door and humility

Published 10:50 am Thursday, March 17, 2022

Flannery O’Connor wrote about Mrs. Turpin, a lady sure of her heavenly destination who does not hesitate to share this fact with others. Flannery shows the many faults of Mrs. Turpin but of course she does not see them. At least not until the end of the story when she has a vision.

In this vision, Mrs. Turpin sees a crowd of souls moving toward heaven. To her shock, at the head of the line is a group of street people and poor folks. At the very end of the line, she sees the only group she recognizes. The only ones marching in perfect step. The only ones that seem to 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.

This story should make us uncomfortable. Mrs. Turpin has all the right attributes of a good church-going member of the community, yet she is surprised to see that she is in the back of the line going to heaven, behind all of those people she regarded as lower class. What’s going on?

Jesus says, “The door to heaven is narrow. Work hard to get in but many will fail.” (Luke 13:22)

We can choose our destiny however there are consequences for those choices. 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.

This is a warning for those who think they have their religious act together. Jesus often cautioned religious leaders, people who should know the consequences of making poor choices. Jesus then says: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

There is the narrow door: Humility. A theologian wrote: “I met two classes of Christians: the proud who imagine they are humble and the humble who are afraid they are proud.” There could be a third class: the self-forgetful who leave the whole thing to Christ and refuse to waste any time trying to make themselves look good or humble.

The answer to this question of humility is not to say: “I am now going to become one of the humblest persons in the world.” And tomorrow you do really well, have a selfie taken and post it on Facebook.

The answer is on a cardboard sign outside a children’s clubhouse posting the rules for belonging in the club: 1. Nobody act big. 2. Nobody act small. 3. Everybody act medium.

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Just act medium. Believable, honest, human, thoughtful and down-to-earth. Regardless of your social position, or your job status, or your pile of honors, or your endless list of achievements, just stay medium. 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 read about a company that promotes throwing pies in the faces of anyone chosen. Imagine a well-tailored executive type. A stranger comes and whips a pie out of a box and… smash!

The ad said: “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.”

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 struggles and responding.

Now, I’m beginning to see the difficulties of choosing the narrow door. This lesson is meant for me and for other leaders in our churches and communities. It’s not easy but I believe it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn as followers of Jesus.

We can choose our destiny however there are consequences for those choices. 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.

I don’t ever want to be a Mrs. Turpin thinking I have my act together. I pray that Jesus will always help me choose the narrow door.

Remember the rules: Nobody act big. Nobody act small. Everybody act medium. Good advice from a clubhouse for kids. We should follow that advice before someone decides we need a pie in the face.

Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.