God keeps opening things. And we keep shutting them.
In the Old Testament we hear the stories of Israel being chosen by God to receive blessing and fruitfulness. Repeatedly, when things seemed impossible or beyond hope, God opened their world and provided for them abundantly. As Israel lived with that specific blessing, however, the nation came to imagine it exclusive to them. Once they saw they were blessed, they interpreted that more as a reward than the gift it was and so they came to believe the other nations were not qualified for God’s blessing. It belonged to them. God opened the kingdom to them. And they shut it down to everyone else.
But the truth leaks out. I have sent you as a light to all the nations, the prophet Isaiah proclaims. This choosing by God is not just for one country. All nations, all people, shall one day see. Or maybe that means that one day that one nation will see that God’s blessing is not just for them. Blessing is intended for all the nations, all the people.
But the people close the kingdom back down. By Jesus’ time they had shut it so much that only the very few were thought to be in the kingdom. Only those who kept the rules were in the kingdom, the religious establishment had come to believe. And whose rules were they keeping? God’s rules supposedly but the rather simple rules had been added to and amended so much that it wasn’t really clear where the rules came from. No one could keep the all rules. That was really the point of the law, to remind people they needed to depend on God. But the rules came to be used more to keep others out of the kingdom than to deepen the lives of the faithful.
Jesus is born into that kind of climate and Jesus flings the doors open. Children. Women. Outcasts. Sinners. Unclean. Pagans. Weak. Blind. Lame. Lepers. Crippled. They were all invited in, they were all included in the blessing. Name a time Jesus told someone they were excluded. The only place you’ll find is when Jesus warned those who thought they were one of the few who were saved. The only time Jesus told people they were out of the kingdom was when they were trying to keep others out and when they assumed they themselves were in. Those people just may be left out, Jesus warned. But even they were invited to see things more clearly. Even though they had shut themselves out, Jesus opened the door for them too.
The early church struggled to keep those doors open. The Gnostics – those who thought there was some secret knowledge – believed a special key had been given to a select few to open the door of the kingdom. The Church rejected that as heresy. The Church insisted the door is open. It is open because of grace, not because of special knowledge or accomplishment. But soon people shut the door again. Salvation now is frequently seen more as an individual accomplishment. It’s for those who have figured it out, or at least figured it out the way we think it should be figured out.
The Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ keep flinging open the doors. God comes and lives among us. The earth and creation is good. God himself dwells here just as much as he dwells in heaven. The Resurrection means God is saving us even in death. We don’t set ourselves apart by dying. We join with everyone else. And God makes us one with him. Our final defeat, our final inability to make ourselves different, allows God the opportunity to open the kingdom to us.
We keep shutting the doors. God keeps opening them. We think it’s up to us. God reminds us his actions are what matter. The Bible ends with God’s promise to make a new heaven and a new earth. It’s about the whole earth, the whole creation. God’s action, not ours, determines the outcome for all people, all creatures. Not just the ones who think like we do.
God keeps opening things. And we keep shutting them. Open your heart. See the blessing. Claim it. Own it. But remember that it is not just for you. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10.16).
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.