Keep Flying High

(chorus)  Reach up your hand and touch the sky. Look around you and wonder why.

Take the worst in the world and try not to cry, and keep flying high.

 

Take a journey far away. Don’t be afraid.

Be ready to take off today. The plans are made.

The stars are calling out, so don’t be afraid.

Lift up your voice and shout, I’m on my way.

 

Take a journey far away. We love you so.

Tomorrow’s dreams begin today. You’re our hero.

You carry our desire in all you do

And wherever you fly, we all go too.        Chorus

 

Smile and look around you now. Keep flying high.

The work you’ve done is over now, up in the sky.

You’ve been training for so long, so keep flying high.

We salute you in song. You’ll never die. Chorus

 

When you leave this surly sphere, reach out and touch God’s face.

Confide in him and have no fear. He suffered in your place. (instrumental interlude)

 

Take a journey far away. Don’t be afraid.

Be ready to take off today. The plans are made.

The stars are calling out, so don’t be afraid.

Lift up your voice and shout, I’m on my way.        Chorus, two times

A national tragedy

Yesterday, January 28, was the thirty-fourth anniversary of the space shuttle disaster. Seven astronauts died when their ship exploded seventy-three seconds after lift-off. The memory of this event gives poignant context to the tragic news from this past weekend, the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several friends in a helicopter crash.

The death of a celebrity is always major news, especially when that celebrity is still young and active. Whether it’s a shooting, a drug overdose, a suicide, or a vehicular crash, the shock of the sudden loss becomes an international event. People come together in their grief, even though they never met the deceased. These heroic figures have become part of our lives. Their mortality reminds us of our own mortality. And, I suspect, we transfer the grief of our personal losses onto the larger event. If we are privately mourning the loss of a family member or a friend, or if we are living surrounded by troubled lives, the chance to join with millions in sorrow over death brings a cathartic relief to our hearts.

I’m a little too young to remember the assassination of President Kennedy. Most people over sixty can tell you exactly what they were doing when they heard the news of his death. Many of today’s college students are too young to remember the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For them, that event is merely one more episode in history, like Pearl Harbor and the Maine and the Alamo.

In my novel I Remember Amy, the main characters talk about national tragedy the night of the Challenger explosion. Here is an excerpt from that book:

“If only for a day or two, the world seems so different after something like that happens,” I commented.

“But it usually is only a day or two,” you reminded me. “Except for the family and the closest friends, most of us have gotten over it and gone back to life even by the day of the funeral. I promise you that, by the weekend, nothing will seem any different than it was yesterday or the day before.”

“You’re right, of course; and I guess that’s the way it should be. We can’t go on thinking about all the bad things that happen, or we’ll be overwhelmed by sorrow and loss. But it seems as though some of these things should change us more than they do.”

“Some of them are too big to change us. If they don’t happen to us, or to the people we love, they really don’t have any reason to change us, not even for a day or two. I think,” you added, with wisdom beyond your years, “that sometimes we save up the emotion of our big personal losses and hurts, and we let it pour out at a time like this, when everyone is shocked and hurting. Then we can hurt together; and then, after a day or two, we’re all allowed to feel better again. It’s our way of letting go of our personal pain, to be able to share it on a day like today.”

In 1986 I wrote a song—“Keep Flying High”—to commemorate the seven astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion. A few years ago, when my mother had just died, I found comfort in singing that song and dedicating it to her memory. However it happens, death remains the enemy. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But Jesus went on to conquer death and to share his victory with all who trust in him. Remembering Kobe Bryant, or any other celebrity we have lost to death, we find true comfort in the victory of Easter and in our guarantee of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. J.

My acting career

My review last week of the musical Wicked has prompted memories of my own career on stage many years ago. The high school I attended put on a play every fall and a musical every spring; the productions approached a professional level and were popular in the community. My sophomore year I played in the orchestra for The Music Man. The next year I was back in the pit for Fiddler on the Roof. My senior year I finally found the courage to try out for a part on stage. That year the faculty chose to produce Hello, Dolly! and I was given the part of Horace Vandergelder (clear evidence that, even in high school, I was already recognized as a curmudgeon).

The high school had enough talented students interested in these productions that they were able to double-cast every major part. On Fridays and Sundays the main cast would have the major parts, while the “understudies” would perform smaller parts. On Saturdays (and for the school assembly promoting the production) the “understudies” performed the main roles while the main cast took the smaller parts. This meant that many students had to learn two characters for each production.

The Music Man portrays a traveling salesman who sells musical instruments for children, as well as uniforms and instruction books—in spite of the fact that he has no musical training. The town’s librarian, who also gives piano lessons, is the chief threat to his sales campaign. Being a comic musical, a romance develops between Professor Hill and librarian Marian Paroo. That year the school boasted a fine crop of actors and musicians, especially among the young men. The smaller parts for said young men were the school board, who begin the play bickering in public but become united when Professor Hill introduces them to barbershop quartet music. In the cast room after the production, and on other occasions out of the public eye, the two quartets would combine into a powerful octet, singing barbershop songs from the musical. I was one of the three trombonists in the orchestra (a far smaller number than the seventy-six trombones mentioned in the show). I also got to produce the blats of the tuba for the children’s band that appears in the finale of the show.

Fiddler on the Roof depicts a Jewish community in Russia during the nineteenth century. What a learning experience for white, Protestant, suburban kids, learning how to portray a vulnerable and persecuted community of outsiders. Although the script has comic moments, the tenor of the show is very serious. The cast became very close during the rehearsals and put on a powerful performance.

Hello, Dolly! is a comedy about a New York widow early in the twentieth century who also serves as a matchmaker. As the heart of the story, Dolly decides to choose a match for herself—a wealthy but dour merchant in the suburb of Yonkers. Several subplots become entangled in the story, including the merchant’s two assistants, a milliner and her assistant, the merchant’s niece and her prospective husband, and a famous restaurant in New York City. Those of us who had been involved in Music Man and Fiddler found Dolly to have less substance and life than the previous shows; I, for one, was rather glad when the curtain came down on Sunday afternoon. On the other hands, I became good friends with some of the sophomores who were getting their start in theater, which made rehearsals, performances, and cast parties a lot more fun.

I have not been able to return to acting since high school, although I have been an enthusiastic supporter of amateur community theater everywhere I have lived. I cannot count the number of live productions I have seen over the years. My family owns dozens of DVDs and VCR tapes of famous musicals. I understand that a number of people are not fond of productions in which the story is interrupted periodically by singing and dancing, but I agree with a friend of mine who wrote a song, “Life Should Be More Like a Musical.” J.

Authority

“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).

The scribes and Pharisees, writers of the Talmud, constantly quoted one another to establish authority for their positions. No one wanted to take a stand on something that never had been said before. No teacher would dare to proclaim, “I say to you,” without first having the backing of other great teachers in the form of quotations supporting what the current speaker said.

As the Son of God, Jesus had authority to say, “Moses said… but I say to you….” He did not fear using that authority. Such straight-forward teaching amazed the people that heard Jesus teach. They were astounded to hear him speak, without quoting any other teacher, and to listen as he said, “This is what the Bible really means.” Knowing Jesus as we do, his authority does not startle us as it startled his disciples then.

Jesus went beyond contradicting the teachers of God’s Law. He also contradicted the sinful human heart in all its religious manifestations. We want to find in ourselves a goodness that will win God’s approval for us. We seek goodness in ourselves that can help us find our way to God. Jesus preaches the Law in all its severity to show us that we cannot work our way to God by means of the Law. At the very same time, Jesus also describes the gift, the blessing, the way God forgives our sins and opens his kingdom to us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

It is both tragic and comic to hear religious leaders—both Christian and non-Christian—pledge allegiance to the moral standards preached by Jesus. These leaders cannot see that these standards are unobtainable to humans who already have sinned; nor do they comprehend that Jesus offers a better way. Some seek loopholes in his teaching to make us seem good enough for God. Others claim that, so long as we sincerely strive to meet his standards, God will accept us as we are. Neither loopholes nor compromises exist in Jesus’ teaching. He speaks only the Law—which tells us we are deeply in trouble and need help—and the Gospel—which tells us how we have been helped by Jesus.

Jesus is unlike other teachers. He teaches both Law and Gospel, using the Law to show us why we need the Gospel. Unlike teachers who appeal to us to be good, Jesus tells us to be perfect. Other teachers encourage us to live up to God’s moral code. They promise rewards to follow our efforts, and perhaps forgiveness when we try our best and still fall short. Jesus presents instead a message of blessing. He calls the kingdom of heaven a gift given to those who do not deserve it. This gift is given to the people who know that they do not deserve it. Anyone trying to earn this gift is trapped in sand. Anyone who knows Jesus—truly knows him as the one who rescues us, not merely the one who teaches us how to live—stands on the rock. Jesus teaches with authority. He has authority to forgive sins, to rescue sinners, and to give blessings. This authority of Jesus is amazing and wonderful. J.

Review: Wicked

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains information about the plot of the musical Wicked. If you have not seen this musical and are hoping to see it in the future, read no further. This is your only warning.

Earlier this week I promised a review of Wicked, the very successful musical that opened on Broadway in October 2003 and now has a traveling company that performed downtown for two-and-a-half weeks this month. The story, based on a book, gives an alternate view of The Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum in 1900 and made into a popular movie in 1939. Wicked focuses on the witches of the land of Oz: Elphaba, her sister Nessarose, and Galinda (Glinda), who are to become, respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wicked Witch of the East, and the Good Witch of the South. Beginning with the celebration after Dorothy has melted Elphaba, the musical looks back to the conception and birth of Elphaba, her college days (in which she meets Galinda), and her subsequent career.

The traveling production that I saw was impressive. The performers were all talented actors, singers, and dancers. The sets, costumes, and props were superb. The musicians did a fine job, and the production was well-received by the audience. From a technical viewpoint, the show was a rousing success, and if that were the purpose of this review, I would give Wicked the highest marks.

On the other hand, the script and story of Wicked are heavy-handed and disappointing. In fact, I have not been so repelled by a reboot of a familiar story since Star Trek came out in 2009. In both cases, the writers and directors did a fantastic job of conveying details from the original tale but failed to create a likeable story in their re-creation. The songs in Wicked are not memorable, and the story told by the production is disappointingly preachy.

To begin, Elphaba is green. Much of the story concerns diversity and self-acceptance, as Elphaba’s father and classmates are largely opposed to Elphaba because of the color of her skin. Her mother eats white berries during her second pregnancy to prevent a second green child; as a result, the mother is poisoned and dies in childbirth, and the daughter (Nessarose) is born with damaged legs. Elphaba blames herself for the tragedy. When the two sisters leave for college, they meet Galinda, who is portrayed as a dumb blonde, Homecoming Queen, feeling entitled to every privilege in the book. Galinda gives Elphaba the trademark black hat as a joke, but later befriends Elphaba as she learns to have compassion for those who are different.

Two love triangles develop at the college, involving the three future witches and male students Fiyero and Boq. Meanwhile, an unnecessary subplot is added as some malevolent power seeks to deny the animals in Oz the privilege of speech. (Once again, diversity and acceptance are hammered home as the themes of the musical.) Elphaba is excited to meet the Wizard of Oz, assuming that in the Emerald City she will finally be accepted, since everything there is green. But the Wizard is revealed to be the power depriving animals of speech, and so Elphaba becomes his enemy.

Elphaba’s magic is responsible for the winged monkeys, as she tried a levitating spell on one of them but somehow got the spell wrong. She and Fiyero free a lion cub that was being held at the school; somehow, in the second act, the lion has become an adult (the Cowardly Lion). Magic spells likewise turn Boq into the Tinman and Fiyero into the Scarecrow. Boq blames Elphaba for the transformation and is her outspoken opponent, but Fiyero remains faithful to Elphaba. Meanwhile, the Wizard campaigns against Elphaba, labeling her as wicked, and forcing her into hiding. Madame Morrible, once a teacher at the college the witches attended and now the Wizard’s press agent, summons the tornado that drops Dorothy’s house on Nessarose, attempting to draw Elphaba out of hiding. Here the witch’s shoes are explained: they were silver when her father gave them as a gift to Nessarose, but they turned to ruby slippers when Elphaba enchanted them, giving her sister the ability to walk. Elphaba is furious when Glinda gives the shoes to Dorothy, but (in one of the better lines of the play), Glinda tells Elphaba to “get over it; they’re just shoes.”

The idea that Elphaba could be melted with water is originally a joke started by her intolerant enemies. Near the end of the musical, Dorothy indeed throws a bucket of water on Elphaba, who appears to melt and disappear. But this is revealed to be a trick, allowing Elphaba to end her ordeal of being hunted by the Wizard and his minions. Fiyero (now the Scarecrow), is part of the trick; he and Elphaba escape together. Finally, it is revealed that the Wizard was actually Elphaba’s biological father, which explains her green skin and her magical powers.

I found the retelling of the Wizard of Oz to be sadly lacking in quality for several reasons. First, the appearance of the three friends to help Dorothy was totally undermined by their backstories as presented in Wicked. Second, changing the Wizard from a well-meaning humbug into a scheming evil dictator also disappoints. Galinda as a dumb blonde who learns acceptance of others is overplayed. And the attempts to change the Wicked Witch of the West into a likable character, although an interesting idea, is spoiled by heavy-handedness.

That said, if you want to see a powerful performance with superb effects (including an astounding animatronic dragon who hovers above the stage but has no connection to the plot) and join the many others who have viewed this spectacle, be sure to buy a ticket when Wicked comes to your area. If you are fond of the Baum book and of the Judy Garland movie, though, stay away from Wicked. J.

The house on the rock

“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).

Jesus is the rock. He is the only foundation on which a solid life can be built. Everything else is sand: our money and possessions, our good works and efforts to be good, our understanding and our feelings and even our faith. If we trust anything in ourselves to rescue us from sin and evil, then we will not be rescued. True faith is not a virtue in ourselves that we can trust; true faith means trusting Jesus, putting all our confidence in him and putting no confidence in ourselves.

Many people try to build their lives on God’s Law and on their obedience to that Law. Most religions encourage that kind of thinking. The religions of the world share a common moral code, the ethical principles that God has written in every human heart. This moral code, these ethical principles, tell us why we were made. They explain what God expects from us. Knowing the rules is not good enough. We must not only know them but do them. Doing them requires perfection. No short cuts are provided; nor can we find loopholes or second chances. Either we obey the Law in all its requirements, or we have broken the Law—no middle ground exists.

Jesus does not want us to build our lives on sand. He sets high standards and demands perfection from us so we see how badly we need to be rescued by his righteousness. His high standards are not the rock; his kingdom and his righteousness are the rock. Jesus himself is the rock. As we seek his kingdom and his righteousness, we discover his blessings—gifts given to us because God loves us, not because we deserve them. Nothing we do, not even the way we trust Jesus, earns us a place in his kingdom. We have a place in his kingdom because of what Jesus has done—because of his life and death and resurrection. We build our lives on this rock, because the rock of Christ’s righteousness is his gift to us. J.

I never knew you

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that Day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Jesus’ words seem harsh and frightening, warning that it is possible to call Jesus Lord, to do miracles in his name, and still not be known by him! How then can we be sure that he knows us and will claim us as his people on the Last Day?

Jesus wants us to do the will of is Father. His Father’s will is not just the Law—not just that we do not hate, do not lust, do not swear oaths, do not resist an evil person, love our enemies, give to the needy, pray, fast, forgive, and do not worry. Yes, that is the Father’s will for our lives; he created us so we would live that way. But if perfect obedience to this Law is the only way to earn a place in heaven, we are in desperate trouble. Our righteousness is not good enough; we are not perfect like God.

The Father’s will is to change us, to make us perfect. His will; is to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32)—he gives the kingdom as a gift, a blessing, not a reward for good deeds. Those who come to Jesus on the Last Day boasting of the things they have done for him will show that they did not truly know him. Even if they call him “Lord” and worked miracles in his name, so long as they boast of their accomplishments, they demonstrate that they never knew Jesus. They failed to know him because they looked at themselves and at the things they did. Their treasures are on earth, in their own good works; their treasures are not in heaven, in the righteousness of Jesus. Because they did not know Jesus—because they did not seek God’s kingdom and righteousness in Jesus—Jesus will say that he never knew them.

Not only do we call Jesus Lord; we also believe his promises. We seek his kingdom and his righteousness, not in our good deeds, but in his blessings. We build our lives on him, not on ourselves. Because our lives are built on him, we do not need to fear that, on the Last Day, Jesus might say to us, “Go away—I never knew you.” J.

New cat in the house

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter…” T. S. Eliot

Last week I learned that the Salvageable household would be gaining a new member. A nine-month-old kitten was available for adoption; his sponsoring agency said that he is so friendly that “he never met a stranger.” We have had a vacancy in the household since Beau faded away last spring, so I was quick to approve the addition. Still, fees had to be paid and paperwork had to be filed, and his move-in date was delayed until yesterday. Monday being a holiday, it was a good day to welcome a cat into the house, since members of the family were going to be at home.

The new cat was to be claimed at 1:00 p.m. I waited at the house while another family member went out to complete the adoption. As she returned, she was closely followed by two other cars. Two of my daughters, who are championship dancers, had a holiday event at midday. Expecting to meet the new cat, they skipped lunch with their teacher and fellow dancers to rush home, nearly arriving before the cat had entered the house.

He explored thoroughly and quickly made himself at home. In very little time he was accepting affection, trying out laps, and playing with toys. The only fly in the ointment was the disapproval of our five-year-old, found-in-a-Walmart-parking-lot cat. She hid under the dining room table, hissing and spitting when he got too close. We still believe that the two of them will become friends. In fact, one reason for adopting a kitten was to reduce her loneliness when people are away and to give her more opportunity for exercise. However, even though she was able to accept a small dog in her house for a few hours last week with no emotion beyond mild curiosity, the addition of a playful kitten was jarring to her emotional equilibrium.

The new cat is black-furred with pumpkin-orange eyes. He has a long tail and big feet, all indications that he is going to get a bit bigger and stronger in the next few months. We are probably going to have to buy a squirt gun to enforce the house rules for cats: no clawing the furniture, no jumping onto the dining room table or kitchen counters. (Come to think of it, those actions are forbidden to human family members as well.) Like most young cats, he is playful, curious, energetic, but also eager to receive love and affection from the people in his life.

After supper, we had a surprising revelation about our new cat. My youngest daughter picked up a cat toy and tossed it across the room for him to chase. He scampered after it, picked it up in his mouth, ran back to her, and dropped it at her feet. We have a kitten who plays “fetch.” In fact, he continued that game much longer than any of his previous play periods of the day.

With three other people to meet, I was the last to get much attention from him. To me that comes as no surprise; bonding of humans and cats often seems to be cross-gender (male cats favoring female humans and female cats preferring male humans). So after a while I went downstairs to read, as is my custom in the evenings. Soon the new cat appeared, explored the library, and finally found his way onto my lap. He made it plain to me that he loves me just as much as he loves the rest of the family. For that matter, he woke me up twice during the night to make sure that I still love him and to reassure me that he still loves me.

The biggest challenge, apart from persuading the cats to be friends, is finding a name for the new cat. We agreed that his name must match his personality but also must have dignity. (We weren’t responsible for naming Beau, although we did change the spelling of his name.) This cat had been named Midnight, but we decided that Midnight did not fit him. Nor did he seem to respond to the name. One family member strongly urged the name Fiyero, the reason being that the musical “Wicked” has been in town this month. I was least appreciative of Fiyero, both because I didn’t enjoy the performance of “Wicked”—more about that in another post—and because the name sounds like a car model rather than a cat. Tybalt was strong in the running for a while. My youngest daughter opted for Sir Isaac Newton, and by evening she was already calling him “Sir.” With that inspiration, I suggested that we consider a name from the Arthurian legends. Once that was said, we quickly agreed upon Galahad.

So, now Galahad is part of the family. I’m eager to learn how his first full day in the household has gone, whether the other cat has calmed enough to accept him into the family, and how he deals with people coming and going because they have jobs, classes, and other obligations. I know that Galahad will be a valuable member of the family, even if I will have to close him out of the bedroom at night to allow me to get my sleep. J.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Jesus blends two metaphors—the wolf in sheep’s clothing and the tree identified by its fruit. Both metaphors warn us of false prophets. Certainly we must judge other people! We must use good judgment to determine who is telling us the truth about God and salvation and who is misrepresenting the truth. (Some Christians would substitute the word “discernment” for judgment in this context.) When we judge, we do not consider only outward appearances, which can deceive us. When we judge, we look at the results of a life—its fruit. Thus we see whether the person we are judging—the person who claims to be leading us on the paths of Jesus Christ—is faithful to Christ.

Many false religious leaders have fallen victim to temptation. Their sins are known, and we can avoid their false teachings. What should happen, though, if a teacher contradicts God’s Word and yet appears to be moral and upright? Must we accept them as genuine even if their message differs from the Bible? In Deuteronomy, two kinds of false prophets are rejected (and executed): those whose words do not come to pass, and those who preach in the name of false gods—even if their words do come to pass. Jesus teaches nothing different. False teachers may be able to exhibit the outward appearance of virtue, but if their words do not match the words of Jesus, their fruit will be bad. We do not need to wait for the fruit to ripen before we judge it; we already know that the fruit will be bad when we see that the tree is bad.

We judge teachers by their fruits to know which teachers to follow, but we do not judge ourselves this way. We know our hidden sins too well to be convinced by our fruits that we are holy enough for God. When we try to measure our faith and our salvation by our good deeds, we always see ourselves falling short. Instead of measuring ourselves by what we do, we trust what God says about us: we are forgiven, our sins are washed away, and we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The promise of Baptism says that we have been washed clean and adopted into God’s family. From this forgiveness and adoption, good fruit follows. Others may see our saintly fruit and know that we belong to God’s kingdom, but we continually place our confidence in the promises of God and not in our own fruits.

But anyone who teaches a religion of Law, a message consisting only of ethics and morals and doing the right thing, is teaching an incomplete religion, a false religion. Anyone who omits the Gospel promise of forgiveness through Jesus is a bad tree, a wolf in disguise. We judge them by their own teachings, for we already know that no one but Jesus can fulfill the Law perfectly. Those who affirm God’s Law and also share the promise of forgiveness through Jesus are presenting the true message of the Gospel. They are good trees, and they will bear good fruit. We will recognize them by that fruit. J.

The narrow gate

“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” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Robert Frost wrote about taking the road less traveled; “and that has made all the difference,” he assures us. Jesus also seems to recommend the road less traveled rather than following the crowd. The majority of people are entering the wide gate and are following the road that leads to destruction.

What is this wide gate and this easy road? Some might think this describes worldly living, being concerned about what to eat and drink and wear, having treasures and hearts on earth rather than in heaven. Based on this interpretation, they might say that the narrow gate is the moral life, the ethical way, the paths traced by Jesus in his commands as Jesus explains God’s Law.

But even the ethical way is not good enough for God. Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. We must be perfect. Earthly treasures include the good works that we do on earth. Heavenly treasures consist only of God’s blessings—his gifts—which he gives to us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

All the religions of the world know that it is wrong to kill, wrong even to hate. All the religions of the world oppose lust and revenge and injustice. All the religions of the world recommend a relationship with the divine, one based on prayer and fasting and other good works. All the religions of the world warn their followers not to impress the people living here on earth, but to pursue instead a single-minded love for the One who is in heaven.

All the religions of the world tell us to be more concerned with God than we are with ourselves and with the things of this world. But the religions of the world are still trapped in this world. They tell us how to live in this world, offering a promise that if we live right in the present world we earn rewards for the future.

This urge to earn rewards for the future is the log in our eye, the log which blinds us. We want to live up to God’s standards and earn his favor. Even though this is a holy desire, it also becomes the broad way that leads to destruction. The secret of the kingdom tells us that Jesus is the narrow gate. We enter his kingdom, not by our efforts to obey him and imitate his goodness, but by his gift, his blessing, the things Jesus has done for us.

God himself mourns that so few people find this gate, that so many follow the broad way of trying to be good enough for God—a road that leads, not to perfection, but to destruction. God speaks to the sinners of the world through his apostles and his prophets. He sends the members of his Church to share the good news that we are rescued from evil and reconciled to God through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all nations, to share the Gospel with all creation; he said that repentance of sins and forgiveness must be proclaimed in all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. The Bible was written so we would believe in Jesus; and believing, we have life in his name.

Many people who claim to be sharing the teachings of Christ speak only about the rules and commands, neglecting to share the promises and blessings. Jesus wants us to know the rules so we understand why we need a Savior. Because we are rescued, forgiven, and blessed by God, he expects us to use his power to do what is right. The road to the kingdom of God still does not include our obedience. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the gate. Only through Jesus are we rescued and brought into God’s kingdom. J.