Celebrating The Narrow Way, The Inconvenient Truth
(Delivered during the Silliman University Church Opening Centennial Service and Golden Jubilee Celebration of the College of Mass Communication, August 21, 2016.)
Bible text: Matthew 7:13-14; 20:16; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
Good morning and welcome everyone including those following us through live streaming and through Radio DYSR on this very special day of worship and celebration. Today we open the celebration of the Centennial Anniversary of Silliman University Church. At the same time we also welcome our brothers and sisters from the College of Mass Communication who are also observing their fiftieth or Golden Jubilee Anniversary.
Anniversaries, aside from the joyful celebrations, reunions, parties, etc., actually provide a rare opportunity to collectively focus and reflect on the past, our beginnings, our roots, our early days and struggles for survival and the sacrifices of our founders and pioneers. It is when we are able to look back with sympathetic eyes on the past that we are able to realize the amazing, wondrous things that have become the products of great sacrifices of those who have come before us to lay the foundations of our beginnings. It is only then that we can really express in more profound terms words of thanks for what God has done to our church and to our college.
Connecting our celebrations however with the theme of our Founders Day and that of the Centennial celebration of the church will bring us towards the more serious, sober side of this event. In a simple question: what is the meaning of adopting the words of Jesus to Thomas as our theme, I am the way, the truth and the life now and always?
There are a few things we have to point out concerning our theme, first, this teaching is not simply being told as a directional sign. Jesus does not tell us, “This is way, the truth and the life, just follow it”. No! But Jesus, the person himself is the way, He is the truth, He is the life.
For all those who profess to be Christians, those who profess to be church goers, knowing Jesus, is knowing the way, it is knowing the truth and opening to us the life that we need to live. But there is one thing we need to be very careful about in embracing this message of Jesus. The way, embodied in the life of Jesus is a narrow and difficult way. The truth lived by and witnessed to by Jesus is quite an inconvenient truth for those who are living in comfort and contentment, and the life shown by Jesus as the one really worth living is a life mainly of service and sacrifice for others.
Jesus in Matthew makes this categorical declaration, those who want to be his disciples must enter through the narrow gate, where the way is also hard and difficult. There is a choice however that we can make. Because, there are also other ways we can choose, ways that are wide and easy to traverse. But Jesus says, that is the way that leads to destruction. For more often than not, those dreams are fueled by pure selfish ambitions, greed, and pride, which can even destroy others for the sake of attaining one’s goal in life.
Think of those “get rich quick schemes” like those involved in corrupt and dishonest deals in government, or like those involved in the illegal drug trade, or like the so called pyramid scams promising big earnings and quick returns on your investments. These have victimized so many already. Indeed, there are so many options to take for us to gain what appears to be the good, happy, fulfilled, successful life. But Jesus says, the way that leads to life is the one that is narrow and difficult to traverse. There is no easy short cut way to the life being offered by Jesus.
Second, the truth that Jesus talks about is no abstract philosophical category. It is very concrete. The truth Jesus reveals to us is himself. I am the truth, says Jesus. If this is so, this can be a very inconvenient truth for us. It is because the truth that Jesus embodies is actually a reversal of most of the truths we used to know in this world. It is the truth that the last shall be first and those striving to be first shall be made last. The least shall be the greatest, the greatest are actually those who are servants, the mighty shall be humbled from their thrones and the weak shall be made strong.
It is the truth that the wisest of the wise will only be considered foolish in the eyes of God but those considered foolish in the eyes of this world are the ones that embodies the wisdom of God. “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one, no one can boast in the presence of God.”
Perhaps this is the reason why Jesus has to be stopped by the powers that be of his time, the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman leaders. He has been undermining the old truths obtaining and assumed in the old Roman imperial world, that the powerful are the ones who should always be first, that the rich are rich because they are justly rewarded by the gods for their righteousness and the poor, the weak and the suffering are all there because they are only receiving the just punishment from God for their sins. It is only right therefore for the powerful to rule and dominate and even enslave the poor and the weak because they deserve it.
Jesus challenged this truth and proclaimed a radical reversal of this by offering an unprecedented new truth, offering forgiveness to the sinners, like the sinner Zaccheus, the adulterous woman, healing even the non-Jews like the Samaritan leper and the Syro Phoenician woman, accepting those considered unacceptable by the dominant society, loving the unlovable, touching even the unclean and the rejected ones. The truth of Jesus is a very revolutionary truth of all but at the same time, the most dangerous truth to embrace. It is the truth that the authentic life is lived when it is offered in service and sacrifice for others, even for those who do not deserve it.
Third, let’s take note, the reply of Jesus to Thomas is actually a pre arrest, pre suffering kind of speech, just before he gets apprehended and brought to court and tortured by the Roman soldiers. This talk of Jesus is actually an invitation to us all. You want to follow Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life, now and always? Then prepare to walk the narrow way with him, be ready to embrace the truth that has led him to the cross, and live that life that is willing to sacrifice for the sake of those others to whom Jesus gave so much loving attention and favor.
Just imagine, if the founders of Silliman and Silliman Church did not have the faith and the courage to accept this invitation of Jesus, to come over to this rather so remote, unknown location, reachable only by slow steam boat that takes weeks to arrive.
Imagine, if Dr. David Hibbard and Rev. Paul Doltz and other pioneer Presbyterian missionaries did not dare walk this narrow and difficult way, and did not have the dedication to witness to this kind of truth, and did not have the passion to live the kind of life that is be offered only in pure service and even sacrifice for the sake of the people here, we would have nothing to celebrate here at all. We would not even be here today. History is made by people willing to take the narrow road and the consequent sacrifices and zealously devoted to the truth of Jesus Christ.
Only in this way can our lives really make a difference in this world, where we can indeed become the light of the world, the salt of the earth, now and always. Amen.