The Way to the Gate
When we were kids, my sister did a paint-by-numbers of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. You remember those…a canvas board with a printed outline of an image, jigsaw-puzzled into numbered patches to correspond with paint colors. She worked day by day, filling in the patches with the right colors, and when she was done, if you stood about a block away, the colors fused into a whole in your eyes the way digital sound fuses in your ears.
Contrast her experience filling in the patches with Da Vinci’s after a lifetime of preparation, an image in mind, planning composition and technique, grinding pigments, mixing colors, experiencing the flow of bringing something radically new into the world. The two are as far as night from day, east from west.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had created a paint-by-numbers spirituality and righteousness. All legalists do. They imagine that our most profound experiences in life can be digitized, reduced to numbers that if followed in the right sequence will create a product, an outcome: righteousness, justification, salvation.
Jesus passionately and sometimes violently disagreed. Spent life and ministry trying to bring us from paint-by-numbers to artistic flow, from conformance to transformance. When he says unless we exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, he means that kingdom is not an outcome, but the experience of the flow itself. Painting by numbers tries to create an outcome without the preparation it takes to enter the flow of pure presence and creativity.
Jesus is brutally clear that there is only one way to the flow of God’s spirit, and that Way is hard—requires stripping away everything we cling to out of fear that blocks the flow. When he says the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and few find it, he’s not saying that most people are going to hell.
He is saying there are no shortcuts, and few will take the time and disturbance to realize that both gate and way are a person and not a product, and never what we expect to find.