(David Sisler's newspaper column, Not For Sunday Only, is in its 13th year of weekly publication. For reprint permission, or to subscribe, contact Mr. Sisler at email@example.com.)
Suddenly the pole doubled over and he knew he had hooked a very big fish. For several minutes he skillfully worked the fish and finally landed the largest fish he had ever seen. But it was a bass.
His father lit a match and looked at his watch. It was 10 p.m. — two hours before bass season opened. “Son,” he said softly, “you'll have to put it back.”
“Dad!” cried the boy.
“There will be other fish,” said his father.
“Not as big as this one,” cried the boy.
He looked around. There were no other fishermen out that night. No one had seen them. No one could ever know what time he caught the fish.
He looked again at his father. Slowly he worked the hook out of the lip of the huge bass and lowered it gently into the water.
The fish lay still for a moment, forcing water through its gills. Then it flipped its tail and was gone. The boy said, “I will never see a fish like that again.”
Three decades later, the boy now has children of his own and he takes them fishing at the same spot where he let the bass go that long-ago spring evening. And he was right. He has never since caught such a magnificent fish.
But he sees it again and again, every time a question of ethics comes up.
His father taught him the simple matter of right and wrong. “There are only two ways,” his father had said, “and only you can make the choice. You can do right when everyone is looking. That is easy. Or you can do right when no one is looking. That is character.”
Jesus said there are two ways. One is the narrow way. The other is the broad way. You get on these two ways through separate gates.
One is the broad gate. Lots of people can go in at the same time. An entire crowd can pass through. You've seen that kind of gate: “Come on move along. We can handle lots more. Keep moving. Keep moving.”
Then there is the narrow gate. It is like a turnstile. It will admit only one person at a time. Not a family. Not a couple. Just one person.
Once you get through that narrow gate, you are on a narrow way. Beyond the broad gate is a broad way, but this way stays narrow. On the other way there is room for every thought, every opinion, you can do anything you wish, no one ever challenges your choices. On the narrow way you are restricted. It never gets broad. It always stays narrow.
“The broad way,” Jesus said, “leads to destruction and many people choose to follow that way. The narrow way leads to eternal life and not many people ever find the gate, let alone follow the way.”
That thought troubles many people. They want to follow a way that expands to accommodate all of their thoughts, all of their ideas, all of their plans. They are not comfortable with a way that never gets wider, not even by a millimeter.
Jesus said, “I am telling the truth. The way is narrow. The way is hard. But it is the only way that leads to eternal life.”
The boy's father was right. Sometimes you have to put the fish back, even if no one is looking, simply because on the narrow way, there is no other decision that will please God.