The title of this was a wonderful phrase, I found while reading, is attributed to a person called O. Wesley Jnr. In his writing, he went on to say that it could be hard to be a Christian in the first century. Remember, back then most Christians were Jews: if you were a Jew who was a Christian, other Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus said you sold out the faith and the traditions of Israel because you claim Jesus is the Messiah and allow Gentiles in your community.
Or if you were a Gentile who was a Christian and other Romans saw you hanging around with Jews and talking about a Messiah, they said you joined a cult. They expected you at any minute to be hanging out at the airport with a tambourine, selling carnations, asking people if they’re saved, and handing out pamphlets that explain five steps to get to heaven. There was risk and cost to being a Christian back in the first century. You could lose family, friends, livelihood. In some rare circumstances, you might even lose your life.
Maybe you had joined the church thinking God would suddenly make everything go your way. Or maybe you thought Jesus would return on the clouds at any moment so it was okay if things were tough for a short period because you would be in paradise just over the next hill. But things weren’t okay, and Jesus didn’t return. So, the early followers of Jesus asked: Is it really worth it? All the sacrifices? All the danger? All the risks? All the changes? You’ve sold the entirety of your old life to buy into this new life. But is this new life worth it?
Well, Jesus still hasn’t come back some two thousand years later, even though we check the weather report each evening to see if the local meteorologist says, “A warm front will move in to the grass overnight bringing with it overcast skies and the Son of God.” And it doesn’t look like Christians today are any better off than the rest of the population. We struggle with finances and cancer and dysfunctional home life and depression and tensions at work and fear and prejudice just like everyone else.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. But the problem isn’t only that we are just like everyone else. No, we Christians are overachievers: we add some burdens that are particular to our faith on top of the burdens that come with just being human. Small burdens like getting up on Sunday morning in the middle of the summer to come to church to hear a guest preacher when it’d be awfully nice to sleep in and wait until our Minister gets back. Small burdens like reading scripture when we’d rather be reading a trashy novel. Small burdens like saying grace before meals in a restaurant when it’s a little embarrassing.
But we Christians add larger burdens to life too. Like being honest on taxes when we could save hundreds of dollars, like giving more to charity than others do, loving our neighbours as ourselves. And of course, there are some mega burdens too, like loving our enemies, not just our neighbours, like being a peacemaker in a world of violence. Huge burdens of daily taking up our crosses and following Jesus and trying to answer the call, as Matthew says, to be perfect as God in heaven is perfect.
Reflect on this: if before the Christian life, there’s a doorkeeper on guard and you come from a Church or maybe not to this doorkeeper and ask to be let in. But the doorkeeper says that he won’t let you in right now. You ponder this and then ask if he’ll let you in later. “Maybe,” he says, “but no promises and not right now.” Since the gate stands open and the doorkeeper stands to the side of it, you can stoop down to peek through the gateway into the Christian life.
When the doorkeeper sees you doing this, he laughs and says: “If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my resistance. But take note: I’m pretty strong. It will be a struggle to get past me. And I’m only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. It will be a burden to struggle with us all.” You stand there looking through the door and ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Is it worth the risk, worth the burden, worth the struggle to get in? I wonder if the struggle is a treasure? I wonder if the risk is a pearl?” And you take a deep breath, you shift your weight on your feet, and . . .