Assumptions about membership in the Kingdom

This coming weekend celebrates the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time during Lectionary Cycle C. In yesterday’s post we looked at some widely held views about how many would be saved – both in 1st century Judaism and in our modern times.

Jesus envisages some of those rejected as pleading that they had known the Lord (v.26). They ate and drank where he was; he taught where they were. They cannot claim that they ever entered into a compassionate understanding of what he was teaching. There was no acceptance, no response; their response was insincere, if at all. It is a sad case that, in every age, there are people under the illusion that they were following Jesus.  While they claim that they ate and drank with him, they fail to understand they had no intimate fellowship; they heard his teaching but did not accept it as the word of God to be put into practice (8:21).

In consequence in the end they will know complete rejection. The householder says that he does not know where they come from and he brands them as you evildoers(cf. Ps. 6:8). No specific evil deed has been mentioned, but in the end there will be only two classes, those inside and those outside. Since these people did not take the necessary steps to get inside, they are to be numbered with the evildoers outside.

Rejection means weeping and gnashing of teeth, the pain that comes from knowing one has been excluded from blessing (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Contrary to some popular perceptions of God, he can and will say no. Those on the outside will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and then know that God has, in every age, provided his Word of salvation – but in these last days has given us a Son. The pericope warns us not to assume membership in the kingdom on the basis of knowledge of Jesus, attendance at church, or on the basis of elect ethnic origin. The patriarchs of Judaism will be there, but that does not mean every physical descendant of Abraham will. Only the true spiritual descendants of Abraham will be at the banquet.

There is another surprise: people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. This means that all the nations will be blessed at God’s table. The blessed of God will come from everywhere (cf. Isa. 45:6; 49:12). The disciples did not immediately grasp this truth and its implications. The special vision of Acts 10 was needed to reveal how it would work. Even though Israel has a special place in God’s plan, others are not excluded from blessing. We all have equal access to God’s blessing through Jesus (Eph 2:11-22). Even the promise to Abraham stressed how the world would eventually be blessed through the patriarch’s seed (Gen 12:1-3).

So Jesus closes his words of warning with a note of eschatological reversal. Expectations are overturned as there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. Many will get to the table, including some surprises. All are on the same footing. In today’s context the warning of this passage might be that those who are first (who have exposure to Christ through attendance at the church) may turn out to be last (excluded from blessing) if they do not personally receiving what Jesus offers through the community. Simply put, Jesus is the key to the door of salvation

Luke’s Gentile audience would listen eagerly to these words, but they would also be challenged not to take for granted themselves their eating and drinking with Jesus at the Eucharist. The pronouncement closing this speech guards against both presumption and despair; as long as the journey is underway, some may fall away and others may still join.

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