Back in 1980, I went back to college. Like a lot of folks, I went to college right after high school, took a bunch of classes, dropped a lot more, and then dropped out of school for a time. I had been offered a good job at more money than my father made, so I took it. But in 1980, after being asked to leave my home, and having been injured at work and fired, I decided I needed to acquire some new skills, so I went back to school.
There was another reason I went back to school. I was trying to make time with a girl I had gone to high school with and reconnected with at the telephone store. Yes, they used to have telephone stores.
Anyway, that first semester I took exactly three classes, typing, The History of England, and Real Estate License Preparation. I thought that real estate might be a good career choice. I had read a couple of books about real estate, and they were interesting too. Don’t laugh.
Anyway, I finished the class with a good grade, and then applied to take my real estate examination in hopes of getting a license. So I studied. And I studied. And then I sat for the exam. The exam was supposed to take three hours. I finished in 45 minutes. So I left and then went back home to wait for the results, which seemed to take forever. When they did come I saw that I had passed and passed well. Within a couple of days I received a job offer from Century Twenty-One. So I went to the interview and listened to the broker and decided to take the job. Of course there was no salary. It’s all commission. They wanted me to come to the office three times a week to watch some training videos, so I did.
I sat in a little office and watched these training videos. That first night, I saw something in the first tape that set me back a little. The whole video was about convincing people that didn’t want to sell their houses to sell their houses. The tape said to show how they could make huge amounts of money. You hook them with greed. Then, after the house is listed and on the market, you explain how they have to lower their price in order to sell it. Well, that seemed a little dishonest to me. The poor fools didn’t want to sell to begin with. You talk them into selling by promising them the moon, and then dash their hopes. I didn’t know if I could do that.
The second tape was about how to lie to people in order to talk those folks who wanted to sell their own houses into using a broker instead. You were supposed to fill them with fear by telling them horror stories about people who lost thousands of dollars by trying to sell their own homes without the benefit of a licensed real estate broker. You were supposed to say that you “knew of someone who knew someone”, and you did, because the guy in the tape told you the stories, so technically, you weren’t lying. But you weren’t telling the truth either. I was really having second thoughts about this career.
The third tape was the clincher. The third tape was all about how, if you wanted to make money at real estate, making money had to be your life’s purpose. You had to care more about making sales than you cared about anything else. The guy in the tape talked about how you had to want more out of life. You had to want bigger and better cars. You had to want finer suits. You had to want that money. The desire to make money had to be the guiding force in your life if you wanted to be successful. It was at that moment that I knew I couldn’t do that business. Because the truth was that making money is not the most important thing in my life. Maybe it ought to be. Maybe I’d be a lot better off if it were. But you can’t pretend to like something when you don’t. I should know. I’ve tried to like yogurt for years without success. So I left real estate. I couldn’t buy in to those ideas of doing business, do I couldn’t be a part of that world. I just didn’t belong there, and I knew it.
It wasn’t even that I thought that the business was evil or anything. I just knew that I wasn’t prepared to do what I had to do in order to be successful. I watched those tapes and thought, “If that’s what it takes, I can’t do it.” So I continued in school and became a teacher instead. I am a lot poorer, but a lot happier. I’d rather be a successful teacher than an unsuccessful real estate salesman. With that experience I learned that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing is freely given. Well, almost nothing.
The portions of Matthew I’ve been writing about for the past two weeks makes it clear that, according to Jesus, the love of the divine spirit is freely given to all. And if Jesus had left it at that, everything would be hunky-dory. But he didn’t .
Jesus continued to talk to them (the temple officials) in parables, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is a lot like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He sent out his servants to invite people to come to the feast, but they declined. The king sent out his servants again and invited the people again to the feast saying, “Tell them that I have already killed the cattle and prepared the feast! Everything is ready. Come and enjoy!” But the people ignored the invitation (I guess the king was not known for his wonderful parties. I had a friend like that.) . One would go back to the farm, another to his business. The rest of the people took hold of the servants and killed them. (Wow! I guess those really WERE bad parties!)
“This really made the king angry (no shit!) And he sent his soldiers out and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. (And stomped on their flowers too, I bet.) Then the king told his servants, (the ones he had left anyway), ‘The feast is ready, but the people I invited were assholes. So go on out into the roads and streets and invite anybody you find and tell them to come and eat.’ So they did, and soon the hall was filled with guests.
“Then the king came in to greet the guests and saw one guy there not wearing a wedding garment. The king said, ‘How is it you come to a wedding, but you don’t wear the right clothes?’ But the man said nothing in response. So the king told his servants to tie him up and throw him out into the darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth (probably because everybody’s tied up) saying, ‘For many are called, but few are chosen.’””(Matthew 22, Big Daddy Translation)
Now the meaning of this parable would seem clear on the surface. The king is God and all the people invited to the wedding feast are the Jewish nation. They were invited and did not come, so now God is opening up the feast to everybody. And for years, the church has held up the poor bastard who didn’t wear the wedding garment as those fools who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. And in that way the church has done her best to scare people into believing. But of course, the message of Jesus was all about defeating fear. People may talk about having the fear of God put into you, but Jesus never did. In the teachings of Jesus, God is always the loving parent, the one that welcomes back the prodigal son.
It would be tempting for a more liberal Christian to maintain that this parable was added later by early church leaders to again point out to the early Christians of the church at Antioch that the gentiles were just as welcome as anybody else in heaven. And certainly it seems that parts of the story were indeed added, like the part where those who were invited and refused are killed and their city burned. But the basic story goes way back. It was part of the famous Q document that predates all the gospels, including Mark, the oldest. So the chances are that Jesus did at least tell some version of this story. I guess it must be important.
The Christian church today runs the complete gambit from the evangelical protestant view that one need do nothing more than claim a belief in Jesus to receive the reward of heaven to the Roman Catholic tradition that heaven must be earned by staying free of sin and doing good deeds. I would suspect that in Karl Marx fashion, the truth lies somewhere in between. This seems pretty clear if we think about things a little (always a good habit).
There are now and have always been plenty of people who want to be in good with the all mighty. And what they want is some ritual, or some prayer, or some thing they can do to be assured of salvation so they can do it and then move on to the next item on their to do list. Okay, ate breakfast, made the bed, achieved salvation, mopped the floor…we’re good. What they fail to realize is that salvation (a loaded word to be sure) is an evolutionary process. And on the surface, this story seems to point to that idea. Just wear a wedding garment and you’re good. But I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when he told the story. In fact, in light of the parables he just got done telling these temple officials, it would almost have to be something different, unless he wanted to contradict himself regarding rituals.
Consider the wedding feast as the assembled people celebrating something, in this case a wedding. Everyone who would normally never be invited to a king’s son’s wedding gets to come, so they dress for it. They want to be a part of the celebration. But the guy coming without the garment just wants to get the free food. He doesn’t really want to celebrate. He doesn’t want to align himself with those people who are celebrating. The message of Jesus is about the unity of the human race. We are all together in this. He said it himself, “Whatever you do to the least of these (as in people), you do to me.” We are all one.
The guy without the garment doesn’t really want to be one. So he doesn’t get to enjoy the celebration. He’s the guy at the wedding who was dragged there by his wife or girlfriend and would much rather be back at home watching the football game. He doesn’t feel as though he belongs there, so he doesn’t.
I’m going to tackle that word, “salvation”, specifically because it is such a controversial idea, especially to people who don’t buy traditional Christianity. People who don’t like Christianity take exception to that idea that some people are saved and some are not. And so some apologists for the faith might shy away from that word, but not this guy, no sir. When we think of salvation, we have to ask what we are being saved from.
A lot of mainstream Christians might say that we are being saved from hell. But the story of the prodigal son seems to make it clear that it is not God’s desire to see anybody in hell, whatever that is. And the story of the laborers seems to indicate that God’s love and salvation is there for everybody all the time.
So what are we being saved from? Jesus said time and again, “Why worry about what you are to eat, or what you are to drink, or how you will dress yourself?” Jesus makes it clear that God will take care of all of us. We will always get exactly what we need. And we are not being saved from death. Lazarus is raised from the dead. So is the centurion’s daughter. Jesus himself, his resurrection, is the sign that death holds no power over us. Lazarus never claimed Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Let’s face it, once you’re dead, you’re free from all this suffering, one way or the other.
What we are being saved from is fear. Jesus has come to tell us to change our way of thinking (or at least for those people two thousand years ago to change THEIR way of thinking). God is not some angry king who punishes us for being bad. God is not some all-powerful ruler that we better fear. God is the loving father/mother who wants us to be happy and enjoy the greatest gift of all, life. Have faith. God will take care of you. Let go of fear. What is there to be afraid of? Death? There is no death. It’s an illusion.
Just understand and believe this and you’ll be fine. Have faith in God. You are not alone. You are loved.
But to enjoy this feast, this feast of joy, you have to believe it. Are you going to hell if you don’t believe? No. If you don’t believe it, you’re in hell now. You suffer every day you’re alive. You’re afraid you won’t make it. You’re afraid your world is going to crumble down around you. You’re afraid of being lost and alone, of being unloved. Could hell be any worse than this? So put on the wedding garment of faith and join the celebration. It’s all here for you. But there is no way for you to enjoy that liberation from fear without faith. It isn’t enough just to say a few prayers, unless you really really believe those prayers and really, really believe that everything is going to work out just exactly the way it is supposed to work out.
When you have faith, you can enjoy life. You don’t have to worry about when the good times are going to end. Of course life is going to throw obstacles in your way. But you will overcome them. Without faith, you end up in the darkness, where there truly is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And having faith is a process. Faith itself is the journey. In faith, we reach out to one another. Without faith, we are alone. Understand that whatever may come your way, you will be able to handle. The day you can’t is the day you die, and death isn’t the worst thing that can happen. In fact, death is the ultimate healing.
Some people don’t accept that invitation to enjoy life. They’re busy with business, or making a living, or learning how to make a living. And because they don’t accept the invitation to the feast of joy, that liberation from fear, that message of faith, they suffer. For various reasons, there was once a group of people who thought they were the only ones invited. Jesus makes it clear that everybody is invited. But to enjoy a wedding, you have to come prepared to celebrate. The universe has laid out a magnificent feast for us all to share and enjoy. So come on people. Put on that wedding garment and let’s party!