This blog series follows my “Teachings of Jesus Class”
where we examined the words of Jesus recorded in the gospels.
Jesus realized people were having a hard time understanding God’s vision for humanity. So Jesus told some stories (found in Matt 13, 20 and 22) that started with “The Reign of God is like …”
- A mustard seed which starts small, but grows into a big tree.
- Yeast which spreads through the entire loaf.
- A man who finds treasure in a field, hides it, and then buys the field.
- A man who finds an exquisite pearl and sells everything to buy it.
- Hired hands who are paid generously, but not based on what they have earned.
- A fisherman who catches one of every kind of fish, then throws out the bad fish.
- A wedding host who invites others to the wedding when his original guests won’t attend.
In #1 thru #5, it is easy to see how Jesus is drawing the circle wider. He paints a picture of the Reign of God that is growing, being found, acting generously, and including people who were previously excluded. This inclusiveness is good news! Great news!
But then we hit #6 and #7. These stories hurt my sensibilities. Jesus is excluding!! Not based on gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, or other things so common in our society. BUT he is excluding those who are “bad fish” and those who have made the sad choice not to come to the party.
My immediate reaction is: “but I too have been bad and I too have made bad choices!” I can sympathize with these people. I want them to have other chances, because I’ve gotten so many. I want Jesus to draw the circle even wider.
This is where I love what the theologian Karl Barth taught: We must not limit the freedom and grace of God by saying there cannot be a “final opening up and enlargement of the circle of election and calling” (Church Dogmatics II/2, T&T Clark, p. 418). In my words: although I trust what Jesus says, I also know the grace and heart of God. And therefore it is not silly or in vain for me to hope and pray that God has a further plan, yet unknown to us, where the circle enlarges to bring in every last bad fish.
Note: My diocese, the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, has the wonderful stated vision of “Drawing the Circle Wider!”