The Kingdom of God: Many are Invited but…

We have seen how the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had a Word of Authority such that diseases and even nature obeyed his command.  He also spoke at length on the Kingdom of God.  Remember that several of the prophets of Zabur had written about a coming Kingdom of God.  Isa built on their prophecies to teach that the Kingdom was ‘near’.

At first he taught the Sermon on the Mount, showing how future citizens of this Kingdom of God were expected to behave and treat each other.  He taught a radical principle of loving even your ‘enemy’.  Think about how much misery, death, injustice and horror is experienced today (just listen to the news to be reminded) because so many do not listen to his teaching about love.  If life in the Kingdom of God is to be different than the sometimes hellish life we have in this world then we need to treat each other differently – with love.

Parable of the Great Banquet

Since so few live in the way that the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught you would think that very few would be wanted or invited into the Kingdom of God.  But this is not so.  The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught a parable of a great banquet to illustrate how wide and far the invitation to come into the Kingdom goes.  The Injil recounts his teaching:

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”  (Luke 14:15-24)

Our accepted understandings are turned upside down – many times – in this teaching.  In the first place we might assume that Allah will not invite many into His Kingdom (which is the Banquet in the House) because he does not find many worthy people, but that assumption is shown to be wrong.  The invitation to come to the Banquet goes to many, many people.  The Master (who is Allah in this parable) wants the Banquet to be full.  That is encouraging.

But we soon learn there is another unexpected twist in His teaching.  Very few of the guests actually wanted to come, instead they made excuses so they would not have to go!  And look at how unreasonable the excuses are!  Who would buy oxen without trying them out for a test before he bought them?  Who would buy a field without already looking it over first?  No, these excuses revealed the true intentions of the hearts of the guests – they were not interested in entering the Kingdom of God but had other interests instead.

Just when we think that perhaps the will of the Master will be frustrated with none or few attending the banquet there is yet another twist.  Now the ‘unlikely’ people, those who we all dismiss in our minds as being unworthy of being invited to a great celebration, those who are in “streets and alleys” and far-away “roads and country lanes”, who are “poor, crippled, blind and lame” – the very people we often stay away from – they get invitations to the banquet.   The invitations to this banquet go much further, and cover more people than you and I would have thought possible.  The Master of the Banquet wants people there and will even invite those we ourselves would not invite into our house.

And these people come!  They have no other competing interests like fields or oxen to distract their love so they come to the banquet.  The Kingdom of God is full and the Master’s will is accomplished!

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) told this parable to get us to ask a question: “Would I accept an invitation to the Kingdom of God if I got one?”  Or would a competing interest or love cause you to make an excuse to turn down the invitation?  The truth is that you are invited to this Kingdom Banquet, but the sober reality is that most of us will decline the invitation for one reason or another.  We would never say ‘no’ directly so we offer excuses to cover our rejection. Deep down inside we have other ‘loves’ that are at the roots of our rejection.  In this parable the root of the rejection was love of other things.  Those who were first invited loved the things of this world (which was represented by the ‘field’, ‘oxen’ and ‘marriage’) more than the Kingdom of God.

Parable of the Unjustified Religious Teacher

Some of us love things in this world more than the Kingdom of God and so we will refuse this invitation.  Others of us love or trust our own righteous merit.  The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) also taught about this in another story:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 9-14)

Here we meet a Pharisee (a religious teacher like an imam) who seemed to be perfect in his religious effort and merit.  His fasting and zakat was even more than required.  But he placed his confidence in his own righteousness.  This was not what the prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) had shown so long before when he had obtained righteousness simply by humble trust in the promise of Allah.  In fact the tax collector (an immoral profession at that time) humbly asked for mercy, and trusting that he had freely been given this mercy he went home ‘justified’ – right with God – while the Pharisee, who we assume is ‘right with God’ has his sins still counted against him.

So the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) speaking again with authority, asks you and me if we really desire the Kingdom of God, or if it is just an interest among lots of other interests.  He also asks us what we are trusting in – our merit or God’s mercy.

It is important to honestly ask ourselves these questions because otherwise we will not recognize his teaching which we look at next – that we need Inner Cleanliness.

Prophet Isa al Masih’s (PBUH) Word of Authority over Nature

In our last two articles we saw how the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught with authority and even had such authority that he could heal diseases and evil spirits (jinn) ‘with a word’.  But what was even more astounding was that he also had authority over nature.  The Injil records once how he crossed the lake with his disciples in such a way that filled them with ‘fear and amazement’.  Here is the account:

22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”  (Luke 8:22-25)

The word of Isa al Masih (PBUH) commanded even the wind and the waves!  No wonder the disciples who were there with him witnessing this event were filled with fear.  That authority to command made them wonder who he was.  There was also another occasion when they were with thousands of people and he had such authority that the people again asked who he was.  But this time he did not command wind and wave – but food.  Here is the account

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.  (John 6:1-15)

When the people saw that Isa al Masih (PBUH) could multiply food many times over so that five loaves and two fish could feed 5000 men and still provide left-overs they knew he was a unique prophet.  So they wondered if he was the Prophet that the Taurat of Musa (PBUH) had predicted long ago would come.  In fact we know that Isa al Masih (PBUH) was indeed this Prophet because the Taurat had said of this Prophet that

I (Allah) will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that The Prophet speaks in my name. (Deuteronomy 18: 18-19)

The Sign of this Prophet was that Allah would put His very ‘words in the mouth’ of this Prophet.  What separates the Words of Allah from that of men?  The best description is that found in Surah YA-SIN

Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is! (Ya-sin 36: 82)

We saw in the last article that the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) healed diseases and cast out evil spirits simply ‘with a word’  Here we see that he speaks a Word and the wind and waves obey.  And then later he speaks and the bread multiplies.  These Signs fit the description given in the Taurat for this Prophet where the words of Allah were put in his mouth because when Isa al Masih spoke – it came to be!

But it is so interesting that the disciples themselves, at this point, had a hard time understanding all this.  They did not understand the significance of multiplying the loaves of bread.  We know this because the Injil records that right after the feeding of the 5000 that:

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.  (Mark 6:45-56)

Again, the prophet Isa al Masih spoke a Word of Authority and it came to ‘be’. But the disciples did ‘not understand’.  The reason that they did not understand was not that they were not intelligent; it was not because they were not there; not because they were bad disciples; nor was it because they were unbelievers.  No, it says that their ‘hearts were hardened’.  Remember how the Prophet Jeremiah (PBUH) had prophesied that a New Covenant was coming – where the Law was going to be written inside our hearts.  Until that Covenant has changed a person their heart is hard – even the hearts of close followers of The Prophet!  And our hard hearts keep us also from understanding the spiritual truth revealed by the prophets.

This is why the preparing work of the Prophet Yahya (PBUH) is so important.  We saw that he called people to repent by confessing their sin instead of trying to hide it.  If the disciples of Isa al Masih had hard hearts that needed repenting and confessing of sin, how much more you and me!  Perhaps you will join with me in praying silently in your heart to Allah (He knows even our thoughts so we can pray simply by thinking) in the form of confession given by Dawud (PBUH):

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my sins.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me and lead me to understand your Revelation.

This is a prayer I pray and I encourage you to do this also so that the Messages of the Prophets will be understood by soft and pure hearts as we continue to learn from the Injil.