No Place for Idas
The Kingdom of Heaven is no place for Idas.
Deion Sanders, better known as “Prime Time” Sanders, is the only athlete to have hit a Major League home run and scored an NFL touchdown all in the same week. He grew up in the streets, and slowly worked his way into fame as cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons. What is it that accounts for this man’s success? In an interview, he says he was spurred on by the would-be athletes he knew as a boy. “I call them Idas,” he said. “’If I’da done this, I’d be making three million today…If I’da practiced a little harder, I’d be a superstar.’ They were as fast as me when they were kids, but instead of working for their dreams they chose drugs and a life of street corners. When I was young, I had practice; my friends who didn’t went straight to the streets and never left. That moment after school is the moment we need to grab. We don’t need any more Idas.”
Sometimes the best advice comes from the least likely place. Prime Time’s words aren’t too different than our Lord’s in the parable we heard today. In fact, if you take them in the right way, they’re both saying the same thing.
“Someone gave a great dinner and invited many,” Jesus Christ tells His disciples. “At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out…accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master” (Luke 14:16-24).
We know the end of the story. The master of the house becomes upset. His banquet is ready, but the invitees have all turned him down. So he sends out his servants again and has them bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and lame, and even the vagabonds in the highways and the hedges.
The meaning of this parable is clear. The master of the house is God the Father. The banquet is eternity shared with Jesus Christ. The servants calling people to dine represent everything in the universe pointing us to God: the Church the Holy Scriptures, reason, science, and even nature itself. It’s always silly to question God’s compassion. As we see in this parable, the doors to paradise are open and have always been open. The only question at stake is whether we will choose to walk through them.
In this parable, you see in the most vivid way both the nature of God and the nature of men. Who is God? God is the banquet giver. You can imagine a long table with the most savory meats, pungent sauces and aged wines. Of all the metaphors of paradise in Scripture this is one of the most common, because it strikes at the heart of God. As the psalms say, “Taste and See that the Lord is Good” (Ps. 34.8). Everything pleasurable and beautiful in this life is pleasurable and beautiful because it’s a mere glimpse into the goodness of God, and it gives us a little taste now of the banquet He’s prepared for us.
Meanwhile, humankind exists for the sole purpose of feasting on that feast.
God originally put us in a garden, and the Church’s role is to bring us back to that garden. A lot of people think of Christianity as a religion of commandments. You should do this and you should not do that… But that’s not what we see in this parable. Christianity isn’t primarily a “should” religion, it’s a “come” religion. God isn’t sitting up there waiting to judge and condemn. He’s down here with us, beckoning us to “Come.”
The servants go out and cry in the streets: “Come; for everything is ready.”
You can hear them saying: “Come, whoever is looking for meaning in your life.” “Come, whoever wants to live a better life than you are.” “Come, whoever has been disappointed by someone…whoever isn’t satisfied with this life…whoever believes there must be more…”
God is the Feast. You and I were created for the feasting.
But that’s not all the parable tells us. It also sheds light on the problem…our indifference to God’s calling.
No one is obligated to come to the feast. In that case, God really would be a tyrant, if He were to force us to join Him in paradise. Instead, He opens the doors and calls out, but leaves it up to us to choose to come or not. And the responses are mixed aren’t they? We make no end of excuses.
“The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it’…Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out’… Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’”
Frankly, these sound like pretty good excuses. And that’s the problem. We’re great at making excuses. Just listen to any 10-year-old. It’s amazing how talented a child can be at crafting excuses, and when we grow old we get even more sophisticated at them. Have you ever paid attention to the thoughts that cross your mind when you’re tempted to sin? If you listen, it’s remarkable. The minute I want that final piece of pie, even though I know I shouldn’t (and I’ve already at three), I think up every manner of justifications. And if only that were the worse temptation I had.
At the end of his career, the famous agnostic, Bertrand Russel, was asked what he’d say to God if, in the next life, it turned out God were real after all. Russell replied boldly that he’d say to God, “Not enough evidence. Not enough evidence.”
But is that really true?
One has to wonder what Russel really will say. Most likely, the moment he sees God he’ll know that all his excuses were counterfeits, that he never really lacked evidence, but that he simply didn’t want God. His heart was so full of himself, that it didn’t have room for God. Then comes the moment: when he sees God will he dislike Him and walk away, or, just maybe, he’ll realize his mistakes and ask for forgiveness. We can’t judge anyone. Each person has his or her own journey and that belongs to God. But we can look into our own hearts, and search out for the excuses that we make, which separate us from God.
So what are our excuses when it comes to the time we spend with God??
In the end, when we’re held accountable for the way we lived, will we be mere Idas?
“I’da prayed more, Lord, if I wasn’t so tired at the end of the day.” “I’da given up that sin, if it wasn’t so much fun.” “I’da tithed more, if I had a bigger paycheck.” “I’da forgiven him, if he wasn’t such a…(fill in the blank).” “I’da fasted more…gone to church more…loved more…” The list goes on and on.
Honestly, we’re all Idas to some extent. That’s part of our fallen condition, and God is merciful. Maybe it’s enough to just strive a little harder to put aside the excuses and ask God for help.
At the end of the parable, the master of the house invites the blind, lame, poor, and crippled to the banquet. This is our loving God. He doesn’t ask us to be special. He just asks for willingness.
One more story: Long ago, when God called Jeremiah to be His prophet, the boy responded, “Oh no, Lord…Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.” But God rebuked the boy, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you. Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you" (Jer. 1:7-8). You can imagine the trepidation in this young man to become God’s prophet. But isn’t it just like God to chose a ‘nobody’ for His servant. We don’t always feel adequate to do the work that God has for us. But that doesn’t really matter.
God has given you everything you need to follow him and do His work. The feast is ready. God is calling. Will you come?
The Kingdom of Heaven is no place for Idas.
Now is the time to put aside our excuses and pick up the cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.