As a child, I used to look at my religion as
the means to get God to do what I wanted Him to do. Because I was a member
in good standing of the true, founded-by-Jesus Church, I presumed God was
more attentive to my prayers than to those of Protestants and valued them
infinitely more than the prayers of non-Christians.
But, as an adult student of Scripture, I
discovered an entirely different dimension of faith. My relationship with
God no longer guaranteed I'd get more "stuff" than those
non-relating individuals around me; it simply provided me the means of
seeing the stuff God already was offering, even before I prayed for future
Isaiah (25: 6-10) is certainly looking into the
future when he promises, "On this mountain, Yahweh of hosts will
provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines....He will
destroy the veil that veils all people....He will destroy death
forever....This is Yahweh for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad
that He has saved us."
Meal is served
Knowing nothing of an afterlife as we know it,
the prophet can only hope that Mt. Zion will one day be transformed into a
heaven on earth.
Yet Matthew's Jesus has a different message
(Mt 22: 1-14). Employing the banquet imagery developed by Isaiah, He informs
His followers that this long-awaited meal is now being served! There's
just one hitch. "The banquet is ready," He states, "but those
who were invited are unfit to come."
Somehow those who for centuries were
anticipating this tremendous event excuse themselves when they find out the
date and place.
Jesus' point in telling the story is to
remind His listeners that the celebration isn't going to be canceled for
lack of participation. "You must go out into the byroads," the
king commands his servants, "and invite to the wedding anyone you come
upon." The meal is still being served, even if it has to be eaten by
those (Gentiles) who didn't have it on their schedule.
One of the fundamental mysteries of early
Christianity was the realization that an event prayed for and anticipated by
Jews for over a thousand years was largely ignored by those same people when
it finally took place.
That seems to be why Paul ends his letter to
the Philippians with the comment, "I am experienced in being brought
low, yet I know what it is to have an abundance. I have learned how to cope
with every circumstance - how to eat well or go hungry, to be well
provided for or do without. In Him who is the source of my strength, I have
strength for everything" (Phil 4: 12-14, 19-20).
External circumstances aren't very important
for persons of faith. What one really needs, Paul believes, one already has.
That's why he states, "My God...will supply your needs fully, in a
way worthy of His magnificent riches in Christ Jesus."
The riches others are searching for are already
part of our lives. We need only imitate Jesus to access them.
Jesus' historical ministry seems to have
revolved around encouraging people to shift their religious concentration
from praying for future good to finding and recognizing the good God is
already providing. It takes deep, mature faith to achieve such a
transformation and a determination to relate to God and others in a new way.
Instead of being just the means to achieve something, God and others are
already something. It's an invitation we can't ignore.