I relish short cuts.
I’m not just talking about turning right onto Blindman’s Lane to avoid the FiveWays junction. I’m talking about life.
Like discovering a second cousin who at some expense and with enormous commitment had researched the Moughtin family tree into the distant past. I simply identified our common great-grandfather and then added my own grandfather and father to get the same result. Easy.
Using short cuts gives us time and saves energy, invaluable when we face so many tasks and challenges. Entrepreneurs make fortunes in offering us some indispensable short cut.
As I write this blog, sitting in our caravan on Pink 1 in the middle of a field in Somerset I could sure use some short cuts. Sadly plagiarism is simply not an option with the New Wine internet access some 10 minutes walk away.
My most memorable short cut was when I was a theological student at Durham. The quickest way to get from the Faculty to St John’s College was to walk through the Norman majesty of Durham Cathedral, crossing the nave from the sanctuary door to the Harry Potter cloisters, then left through the archway.
That would save me at least two minutes – although I did feel vaguely guilty about using sacred space as a short cut, especially having attended a lecture on Mark 11.
In this account of Jesus cleansing the Temple, Mark adds an extra detail not given in the other Gospel accounts. So we read in verses 15f: “Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.”
We tend to focus on the tables being overturned by Jesus and simply not notice the following detail, that Jesus stopped merchants using the temple as a short cut. While his concern may have been the misplaced entrepreneurism of the dove sellers (after all, it is easier than bringing your own from Galilee), the fact that he stopped the Temple being used as a common thoroughfare shows his passion for the Court of the Gentiles being freely available.
All this commercial activity and business traffic was stopping God-fearing Gentiles from encountering the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ ? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”
Making the temple a short cut, amongst other things, meant denying ‘all the nations’ a place to pray.
I say all this following a throw-away comment from our Wednesday evening speaker, Chrissy Wimber, who noted that there are no short cuts in the Kingdom of God.
If you want to develop as a disciple and flourish as a friend of God, there are no quick fixes, no easy options. Testing and trials are inevitable, there’s no going round them. So get used to it.
Jesus could not have been any clearer. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mathew 7:14f)
The apostle Paul knew all this of course, not least from his own experience as he writes to the Romans: “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (5:4)
This is how God works in our lives, as Paul encourages us: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.“
The going may be tough but God gives us his Holy Spirit to encourage and support us.
It was the pioneer Puritan, William Penn (who gave us Pennsylvania) who wrote from the Tower of London in 1669:
“No pain, no palm;
no thorns, no throne;
no gall, no glory;
no cross, no crown”
He could have added “short cut, no sanctification.”