26 August 2007

The Kingdom of Heaven is like coming to prison

Hard on the heels of the musician quitting came today's reading. "Lord, are they few who are to be saved?" and the ambiguous answer, "Try to come in through the narrow gate. Many won't be strong enough." Uh huh. "Lord, open the door!" "Go away. I don't know where you're from!" "But you taught in our streets and we hung out at those great dinner parties."

And then this exquisite vision of people coming from all directions to recline at the feasting table.

I talked a bit about how we're always wanting to know that we're on the right track, with the right group. The question isn't really, "How many will be saved?" but rather, "I'm on the list, aren't I?" It's a good human question, but it's not relevant. Jesus draws on the rich prophetic tradition, like Isaiah in the first reading, recalling that the covenant with the Jewish people was not just for their good, but for blessing the whole world. By their lives and their faith, God of all the world would be known by the whole world. In Isaiah's vision, they'll all come streaming to Jerusalem.

What about those people standing outside, pounding on the door and claiming to be part of the entourage? Even though they know the name, "Lord," they do not know the person--because they aren't living what they've been taught. They have the head knowledge, but not the heart, not the life experience. "Go away. I don't know where you are from."

And then there is this moment: what IS the kingdom of God like? It's like coming to prison.

I got startled looks when I said that, even surprised myself, but follow me.

Before we came to prison, who did we imagine was in prison? A bunch of tattooed up bikers and gangbangers, lots of people with accents, people who'd been doing bad things for a very long time.

And then, we got to prison and maybe saw a guy across the gym, someone we'd known in high school. And there was someone we recognized from hanging out on weekends at the beach. And not everyone has a bad haircut and no teeth. There are lifers and short-timers here, teachers and mechanics. We've come from north and south, east and west. We're surprised to be here, and surprised by who we find here.

Jesus' stories kept turning things upside down. Maybe you have to be in prison to understand the richness of the surprise here.

The episode comes as Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. He knows where he is going and has a good idea about what will happen there. It's not much of a stretch to imagine that his good traveling buddies will bail on him, and here they are, asking if they are on the Saved list. What does it matter? What matters but hearing the Word and doing it?

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