“Many are invited, but few are chosen”

This parable from Matthew 22:1-14 is a bit long, but the message couldn’t be more simple.

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people 
in parables, saying, 
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son. 
He dispatched his servants
to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”‘
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business. 
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them. 
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come. 
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests. 
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

I think Jesus’s message is pretty clear here. God invites many to redemption and resurrection, but many ignore or fight it, while still others accept it but come unprepared. The few who are left are the chosen.

Be happy you are chosen. Embrace it. Make the most of it. Live it. Thus, be prepared.

Enter the communion of saints with open hearts, then enter the gates of heaven with full love. The grace of God is upon you.

(I feel such peace writing this.)

Glory to God!

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“He will give him whatever he needs because of his persistence”

Don’t give up on God. Don’t ever give up on God. So we learn today in Luke 11:5-13.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Suppose one of you has a friend
to whom he goes at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey
and I have nothing to offer him,’
and he says in reply from within,
‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked
and my children and I are already in bed.
I cannot get up to give you anything.’
I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves
because of their friendship,
he will get up to give him whatever he needs
because of his persistence.

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him?”

Have you ever prayed for something but not gotten what you asked for? Have you ever sought God’s help, but received no answer?

Did you give up? Or did you keep praying, keep asking, keep seeking?

What Jesus tells us here is that the Father hears us, but sometimes it’s our persistence that God hears and answers. It’s not that He is unaware or unsympathetic to our needs, but that He listens to our passion, our commitment, our persistence in faith. And He knows our limits and our true needs.

The lesson here is that the Father would never let us down. We just need patience and persistence — persistence in prayer and persistence in faith. Persistence in belief.

Never think for a moment that God won’t be there for you. Even if He hasn’t turned your prayer around on a dime. He loves you. He loves you.

“What is your opinion?”

In Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus asks us, what is your opinion — are you getting it?

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not,’
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

“What is your opinion?” Jesus asks the chief priests and the people. But He also asks us, for we are the people, too. Who does God’s will, those who claim to follow His commands but in their hearts walk a different path, or those who appear to walk a different path but in their hearts follow His commands?

Our true faith is what we hold in our hearts, not what we show on our face or display in public. It is often seen in how we act rather than in what we say.

So in this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asking us each, what is our opinion? Who is true to God? He asks us to search our hearts for our true answer, not give our public word. He wants us to dig deep, that we may search our souls and perhaps repent of our rebellion of God.

When we judge others, when we look down on others, when we disrespect others, are these not the very people whom Jesus said were closer to the grace of God than the chief priests and the people to whom Jesus was speaking, the supposed people of faith? We don’t know what’s in their hearts. We don’t know how they are living their faith. We only know their outward appearance. What is your opinion? Does your opinion of them matter?

The road to heaven isn’t a competition. Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospels that His Father’s Kingdom has many rooms and He is preparing a place for us. Judging others doesn’t win you a room. In fact, Jesus also says when we place ourselves first above others that we will be placed last in the entry to Heaven. So when it comes to our personal salvation, doesn’t it make more sense to focus on our own worthiness instead of another’s? Doesn’t it make more sense to live Jesus’s command to love one another, no matter who they are or what they are?

So as Jesus asked the chief priests and people who were doubting him so long ago, who weren’t getting the message, it’s time for us to consider: What is your opinion? Are you getting it?

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?”

Even in Jesus’ time, there were those who identified as Christians but didn’t act like it, as we find in Luke 6:43-49. It’s true today, too. So what’s the problem?

Jesus said to his disciples:
“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me,
listens to my words, and acts on them.
That one is like a man building a house,
who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock;
when the flood came, the river burst against that house
but could not shake it because it had been well built.
But the one who listens and does not act
is like a person who built a house on the ground
without a foundation.
When the river burst against it,
it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.”

 

I am confused. On social media I see people list themselves as Christians, but then I see them carry on in the most unchristian ways. They judge others, they spew hate, they condemn, they troll others, and they support the least Christian policies, far from what Jesus himself did while living among us. This isn’t about politics, this is about basic human decency. This is about treating one another as basic human beings, with love.

They supposedly call Jesus “Lord, Lord,” but they do not do as He commands.

What does Jesus command us to do? He commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, second only to loving God with all of our heart, our mind, and our soul. Jesus also tells us to feed the hungry, to provide for the poor, give comfort to the suffering, take care of the disabled, the widow, and the orphan, and to take care of the sick. All these things Jesus did in His time among us. He also said not to judge others, and He refused to condemn the sinners He encountered. And Jesus said to love your enemies and make peace with those with whom you have a problem.

Do you suppose these social media “Christians” simply haven’t read the Gospels? Or is it possible they are only getting a portion of the Gospels, or perhaps aren’t being taught the appropriate parts of the Gospels? Or is it that these are the “stiff-necked” people we read about in the Old Testament still living among us today — they do like to quote the Old Testament a lot. Whenever I bring up their preference for the Old Testament and even the Letters of Paul they also frequently quote, they are mum. They are unable to quote me a passage of the Gospels where Jesus commands them to do as they do or reason as they reason.

So is this the Church of Saint Paul, the Church of the Old Testament, or the Church of Jesus Christ? If you are a Christian, shouldn’t you want to know what Jesus Christ says, thinks, and does? If you are going to call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” shouldn’t you do what He commands?

Somewhere, something is wrong. Jesus saw it in His own time. It’s as true today. And as Jesus says above, “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” Are our religious teaching the right things? Are our congregations getting the right messages or gleaning the right messages from what they are being taught?

Yet from people of good will, goodness will come regardless. Jesus says above, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” And so, if we are of good will, if we love God with all of our being and love our neighbors as ourselves, goodness will be the result. We must read the Gospels, hear Jesus’ words, follow His teachings, and do what He commands. Then we may in truth call Him, “Lord, Lord.”

 

 

“If he listens to you, you have won over your brother”

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus teaches us how to deal with conflict. It isn’t always easy, but it is the right path.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. 
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. 
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. 
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”

Here is Jesus’ lesson on how to deal with conflict, how to mitigate disagreement between family, friends, and neighbors. Jesus calls on us to talk first, to try to work it out. “If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.” Here, of course, Jesus uses “brother” in the broadest sense.

If your “brother” doesn’t listen, then you enlist others in the conflict resolution. If that doesn’t work, then you widen the circle of influence, as He says, the church or community. If that doesn’t work, then you may shun him. If someone is so stiff necked that he won’t listen even to the community at large, nothing will change his mind and he isn’t to be dealt with.

But we are first and foremost to try to deal with people face to face, person to person. That’s hard to do. Many of us don’t handle conflict resolution well. We prefer flight or fight to facing the problem head on. What Jesus asks us to do takes real courage and real fortitude and energy. If we pray for God’s help, ask Him to send the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire us to do what is necessary and right, it will help us.

Let us also remember, sometimes the fault lies not with the other person but with us. So in addition to addressing our brother, we need to be ready to be addressed. We need to listen and respond positively to what we hear, to be won over and to win back over. And that may require praying to God for His help, to send the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire us to be open to hearing the truth and responding with love.

Love is a two-way commute. One your neighbor as yourself. Be loved by your neighbor, too. Perhaps you feel some personal guilt over your relationship or something you’ve done and it stands in the way of your reconciliation. Be open to forgiving yourself as well as forgiving your brother. Make it a win-win dialogue.

Glory to God!

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.”

Who is Jesus speaking to in Matthew 16:21-27 when He says, “Get behind me, Satan!”? And what is He saying to us today in this passage?

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised. 
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 
He turned and said to Peter,
Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. 
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life? 
Or what can one give in exchange for his life? 
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

Some suggest that the line, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me,” spoken to Peter, is saying that Peter is possessed by or influenced by Satan. So perhaps Jesus is speaking directly to Satan here.

Farther down the passage there is also the line, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” What if this is a reference to Jesus’ 40-day encounter with Satan in the wilderness before He officially began his ministry? In that encounter, Satan took Jesus high on a parapet and promised Him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow down before him. Jesus refused. And Satan referenced scripture that if Jesus were to as much as stumble on a stone angels would save Him. Jesus rebuked Satan, and Satan walked away. But what if Satan was always lurking in the shadows, looking to trip up Jesus, looking to tempt the Son of God?

After the “Get behind me, Satan!” line, Jesus says to Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Rather than rebuking Peter, he is rebuking Satan, either because he has tempted Peter to say what he has, or because Jesus feels Satan in the shadows, tempting the human side of Jesus.

Then Jesus instructs the disciples. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself.” Jesus denied himself, the human side, the side tempted by Satan. And to follow Jesus, as his disciples and for redemption, we must think as God does, not as human beings do. Satan is ever in the shadows tempting us, tempting us in the way humans think. We must instead think as God thinks. And our response must be, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.”

Another possible interpretation is that Jesus is speaking metaphorically. “Get behind me, Satan!” is meant as get behind me, temptation, or get behind me, fear. “You are an obstacle to me” is meant as you try to threaten my mission. In this instance, then He follows up with Peter saying, Don’t look at this in human terms, look at it in God’s terms. And then to His disciples he teaches about denying one’s human self and seeing all things in God’s way.  From there it’s about following Jesus in His example, in His life and His death and His resurrection.

To us as followers of Jesus, then, it’s about seeing things God’s way. Following Jesus’ teachings. Taking up our cross by denying ourselves for others. Fearing not death but embracing resurrection and the Kingdom of God to come.  Believing that life and death are not meant to be a lonely journey but one where God has provided a path with others to help us and a final resting place in the presence of Almighty God.

Glory to God!

 

“Who do you say that I am?”

In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks his disciples, who do you say I am? How would you answer him?

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Is Jesus here testing his disciples asking, “Who do people say that I am?” Or is he opening the door for discussion? Is this Jesus the Man asking, really wondering, or is this Jesus the Divine, teaching? Or, perhaps, little of both, for Jesus was both man and divine.

Jesus asks a central question that applies now as much as it applied then. In His time, there was much uncertainty who this Jesus of Nazareth was. Today, I think we can say there is still uncertainty. There are so many various preachings about Him, around the idea of what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes, you can hardly reconcile the preaching with the man or the divine. When you run into a “Christian”, who do they say He is?

This is an important question in your formation as a Christian. Who do you believe Jesus the Christ is? Is He the prosperity Christ some have come to preach? Is He the condemning Christ some preach? Is He the selfish Christ some represent? Is He the anti-this and anti-that Christ, the exclusionary Christ we hear preached? Is He the Christ of hate and bigotry we see on our streets?

Who do they say He is? Who do you believe He is?

We live in a divided world. Is that perhaps because we don’t know who Christ is?

Jesus makes clear in the Gospels some very central messages:

  • Love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. Your neighbor is everyone you meet.
  • Pray for your enemy and forgive those who trespass against you; judge not.
  • Take care of the needy, the least among you. If someone asks of you, give to them; if they ask for a little, give to them even more.
  • It’s not enough to observe the law; give up earthly treasures, provide for the needy and follow Christ.
  • Do not be sticklers for the letter of the law but observe the intent of the law; if you are angry with someone you are as liable to the law as someone who kills; if you lust for another you are as liable to the law as someone who commits adultery.
  • God does not bring calamity upon us, he brings us healing; calamity is not punishment but healing is for the glory of God.

God loves us. God loves us so much, He became man, lived among us and taught us how to live with one another, and then died for us. He loves us so much, He died a painful death for us that He might conquer death and rise to Heaven. He loves us so much, He prepared a place for us in Heaven so we might follow Him.

Jesus was never about the power of becoming wealthy; he preached against wealth. He was never about hating others; he preached love. He was never about excluding others; he lived and preached among sinners, the sick, the disabled, and the excluded. Jesus was never about judging others; he refused to condemn sinners. Jesus was about love. Jesus was about establishing a closer relationship with the Father.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Glory to God!