We tell people that everyone will be saved because we cannot put limits on God’s mercy. God’s hospitality is expansive and ALL are invited.
“All people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table.”
Other parts of the Gospel today, however, seem to give us the impression that Jesus does not believe in universal salvation. Some will not make it through the narrow door. Some will not be strong enough. Some will be locked out and no matter how much they plead that they knew the master, they won’t be let in.
Perhaps Jesus is referring to those who think they are entitled. Those with narrow minds (symbolized by the narrow door) who are so self righteous that they have a need to exclude: We think (all those lazy people who don’t come to church, or all those who do not give to the Bishop’s Appeal, or all those Muslim terrorists, or…..). It is a form of entitlement.
ENTITLEMENT. We hear this word especially in election cycles. Each candidate seems to give the impression that he or she is entitled to the office.
The airlines have a very efficient system of entitlement.
Have you ever had the experience of being at your gate and it is extremely crowded? Perhaps the flight is late. Perhaps there are no more seats in the lounge. Babies are crying and tensions are high. Then you begin to hear the agent offering $200 vouchers and pleading for some to agree to fly on a later flight because this particular flight is overbooked.
Then reluctantly we have to accept once again that airlines have rules about the order of boarding. Those who will be first to board have already lined up, and do you sometimes sense among these people an air of elitism? They don’t look at anyone. They don’t smile. They have all their neat but oversized bags ready to stuff into their first class bins where there will always be room for their stuff, never a worry. They even have different names:
“1K,” “Premium Platinum” and “Global First”
I once got knocked back from an upgrade to a business class seat by a guy who came forward and demanded to be seated and was able to pay the full fare. He was flashing his credit card. I had to move down since I was the lowest person on the “totem pole” of upgraded customers that day. I tried to argue that I had already been issued a boarding pass but to no avail. I had to forfeit that boarding pass!
I could have tried to be very nice and inclusive saying how wonderful it was that this rich man had the resources to afford this seat and that he well deserved the seat. He was large and the seat would be much more comfortable for him. I could have even said that I would welcome the opportunity to sit next to him. The airline could have seen my inclusivity and been impressed by my sense of generosity and considerateness and at least made another provision for me (like a free trip) as a reward for my good attitude. Even if I had tried to “humble” myself, the agent was not going to “exalt” me. The airlines always will cater to those who pay. Unlike the Gospel, not every one is invited to “recline” in comfortable seats and dine with three courses and free wine.
But we are all invited now and in the kingdom at the end of time…except that there are conditions.
The conditions are outlined in the parable of the sheep and goats. “When I was hungry you gave me to eat…thirsty and you gave me a drink…in prison, you visited me. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do for me.”
It takes emotional and physical and communal strength to fulfill this condition. It is why we stick together to try to accomplish these conditions.
We do what we can with the personalities that we have and the energy and health that we have. And it is enough. We are not earning that place to recline at table but we are willing to make space at the entrance for all who find it difficult to queue up. We hold the door open and step aside for those more weary than ourselves. We withhold judgment.
All those people in the first class line are not smug, arrogant, self righteous so and so’s. They are seekers just like us. I can love and respect them too, even with their oversized bags.