The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) does a 'Hajj'

We are all familiar with Hajj since it is celebrated every year when Muslims perform the required acts of devotion in the pilgrimage to Mecca.  What is less known is that the Sharia law of Musa (PBUH), received 3500 years ago, also required Jewish believers of that time to make sacred pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Al-Quds) every year.  One such pilgrimage was called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot).  This pilgrimage ordered by the prophet Musa (PBUH) has many similarities to that of the Hajj today.  For example, both of these pilgrimages were on a specific week of the calendar, both involved sacrifices of animals, both involved obtaining special water, both involved sleeping outdoors, and both involved marching around a sacred structure seven times.  In a sense, the Feast of Tabernacles was like a Hajj for Jews.  Today, in fact, Jews still celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles but do it a little differently since their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Injil records how the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did the pilgrimage for this Feast one year – his ‘Hajj’.  I reproduce the account with some explanations when appropriate.

Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7)

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Here his brothers were treating the prophet with sarcasm since they did not believe in him.  But something happened later which caused a change in his brothers because two of his brothers, James and Jude, later wrote letters (called James and Jude) that are part of the New Testament (Injil).

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”

12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”

Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

Jesus Teaches at the Festival

14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

Division Over Who Jesus Is

25 At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

As you can see, the discussion in that time among the Jews was whether the Prophet Isa (PBUH) was the Masih (Messiah) or not.  The Jewish people believed that the place where the Masih would come from would be unknown.  Since they knew where Isa came from they thought that he could therefore not be the Masih.  So where did they get this belief that the origin of the Masih would not be known?  From Taurat?  Writings of Prophets?  Not at all!  The prophets had clearly stated where the Masih would come from.  The prophet Micah (PBUH) in 700 BC had written in Zabur that

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

This prophecy (see article here for more details on this) had stated that the ruler (= Masih) would come from Bethlehem.  We saw in the birth of the Masih that he was indeed born in Bethlehem as that prophecy had predicted 700 years before his birth.

It was simply religious tradition of the time that said that the place where the Masih came from would be unknown.  They made an error because they did not judge by what the prophets had written but instead judged by opinion on the street, the ideas of their day.  We need to be careful that we do not make the same mistake.

The account continues…

28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

On this day of the Festival the Jews would take water from a special spring on the south of Jerusalem and enter into the city through the ‘water gate’ and take the water to the altar in the temple.  It was while they were doing this sacred water ceremony that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) cried out, as he had said before, that he was the source of ‘Living Water’.  In saying this he was reminding them of the thirst in our hearts leading to sin that the prophets had written about, as well as the promise of the coming Spirit who would be given to those who believed in him to satisfy this thirst so that they need not longer be slaves to sin.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Back then, just like today, people were divided about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). As we saw above, the prophets had predicted the birth of the Masih to be in Bethlehem (where Isa was born).  But what about this question of the Masih not coming from Galilee?  Isaiah the prophet (PBUH) had written in 700 BC that

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9: 1-2)

So the prophets had predicted that the Masih would begin his teaching (a light has dawned) in ‘Galilee’ – the very place where Isa had indeed begun his teaching and did most of his miracles.  Again the people were mistaken because they had not carefully studied the prophets and instead only believed what was commonly taught by their teachers.

Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

We can see that the experts in the Law were completely wrong since Isaiah had prophesied that the enlightening would come from ‘Galilee’.

Two lessons come to me from this account.  First it is very easy to perform our religious activities with much zeal but with little knowledge.  As we approach Hajj we need to be careful that the following is not true of us

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:2)

We need to learn what the prophets have written so we are properly informed.

Second, we see here that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) makes an offer.  He said at their Hajj that

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

This offer is given to ‘anyone’ (thus not only to Jews, or Christians, or Muslims etc.) who ‘is thirsty’.  Are you thirsty?  (See here for what the prophets meant by this).  It is good to drink from the zamzam well.  Why not also drink from the Masih who can satisfy our inner thirst?

Isa al Masih (PBUH) teaches – with Parables

We have seen how Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught with unique authority. He also taught using stories that illustrated true principles. For example, we saw how he taught about the Kingdom of God using the story of a Great Banquet, and how he taught about forgiveness through the story of the Unmerciful Servant. These stories are called parables, and Isa al Masih (PBUH) is unique among prophets and teachers in how much he used parables to teach, and how striking his parables are. His disciples asked him on one occasion why he taught by using parables. The Injil records his explanation:

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:10-13)

His last sentence was a recitation of the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) who lived 700 BC and had warned against a hardening of our hearts. In other words, sometimes we do not understand something because we missed the explanation or it was too complex to comprehend. In such a situation a clear explanation dispels the confusion. But there are other times when we do not understand because deep down inside our hearts we do not want to. We may not admit this, so we keep asking questions as if a lack of mental comprehension is our block. But if the confusion is in our hearts and not in our minds then no explanation will be sufficient. The problem then is that we are unwilling to submit, not that we cannot mentally understand.

When the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught in parables, the effect on the crowd that he was teaching was dramatic. Those that simply did not understand with their minds would become curious from the story and inquire further, gaining understanding, while those who were unwilling to submit would treat the story with contempt and disinterest and they would get no further understanding. Using parables was a way for the master teacher to separate people as the farmer separates wheat from chaff by winnowing. Those who were willing to submit were separated from those who were not willing. Those people unwilling to submit would find the parable confusing since their hearts were unwilling to submit to its truth. Though seeing, they would not see the point.

Parable of the Sower and the Four Soils

When the disciples were asking the prophet Isa (PBUH) the question about his teaching in parables, he had been teaching a group of parables on the Kingdom of God and its effect on people. Here is the first:

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

So what did this parable mean? We do not have to guess, since those who had hearts willing to submit were intrigued by the parable and asked for its meaning, which he gave:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

We can see that there are four responses to the message about the Kingdom of God. The first has no ‘understanding’ and so the devil (Iblis) takes the message away from their hearts. The remaining three responses are all initially very positive and they receive the message with joy. But this message must grow in our hearts through difficult times. It is not just to be acknowledged in our minds to then continue living our lives as we want. So two of these responses, though they initially received the message, did not allow it to grow in their heart. Only the fourth heart, who ‘hears the word and understands it’ would truly submit in the way that Allah was looking for.

One point of this parable is to make us ask the question; ‘which of these persons am I?’  Only those who truly ‘understand’ will become a good crop. One way to strengthen understanding is to clearly see what the previous prophets, beginning with Adam, revealed about the will and plan of God through the Taurat and Zabur. This is why we began with these first prophets. After Adam, important Signs in the Taurat come from the promise to Ibrahim (PBUH) and his sacrifice, Musa (PBUH), the Ten Commandments, Harun (PBUH). In the Zabur, understanding the origin of ‘Masih’, and the revelations of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel and Malachi will also prepare us to understand the ‘message of the Kingdom of God’.

The Parable of the Weeds

After the explanation of this parable the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught the parable about weeds.

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Here is the explanation he gave

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) also taught some very brief parables.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

In other words, the Kingdom of God would start small and insignificant in this world but would then grow throughout the world like yeast working through the dough and like a small seed growing into a large plant. It does not happen by force, or all at once, its growth is invisible but everywhere and unstoppable.

Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13: 44-46)

These parables focus on the value of the Kingdom of God. Think of a treasure which is hidden in a field. Since it is hidden everyone passing by the field thinks the field is of little value and thus they have no interest in it. But someone realizes there is a treasure there making the field very valuable – valuable enough to sell everything in order to buy it and get the treasure. So it is with the Kingdom of God – a value unnoticed by most, but the few that see its worth will gain great value.

The Parable of the Net

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Kingdom of God will separate people. This separation will be fully revealed on the Day of Judgment – when hearts are laid bare.

We can see that the Kingdom of God grows mysteriously, like yeast in dough, that it has great value which is hidden from most, and that it causes different responses among people. It also separates people between those that understand and those that do not. After teaching these parables the prophet Isa al Masih then asked his listeners an important question.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

What about you?

The Masih teaches about Inner Cleanliness

We have seen how the words of Isa al Masih (PBUH) had power teach with authority, to heal people, and even to control nature.   He also directed his words to expose the condition of our hearts – to cause us to examine our inner person as well as the outer.  We are all very familiar with outer cleanliness, which is why wudu before prayers is performed and why eating halal meat is practiced.  The prophet Muhammad (PBUH), according to hadith said that

“Cleanliness is half of faith…” (Muslim Ch. 1 Book 002, Number 0432)

But the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) wanted us to also think about the other half – that of our inner cleanliness.  This is especially important because though we humans can see the outside cleanliness or uncleanliness of other people, for Allah it is different – He sees the inner.  When one of the kings of Judah who outwardly kept all the religious obligations, but did not keep his inner heart clean the prophet of that time came with a message that stated:

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.  (2 Chronicles 16:9 of Zabur)

As that message declared, inner cleanliness has to do with our ‘hearts’ – the ‘you’ that thinks, feels, decides, submits or disobeys, and controls the tongue.  The prophets of Zabur had declared that it was the thirst of our hearts that was at the root of our sin.  Our hearts are so important that Isa al Masih (PBUH) emphasized this in his teaching by contrasting it with our outer cleanliness.  Here is how the Injil records the different times that he taught about inner cleanliness or purity:

Clean the Inside as well as the Outside

(In the following discourse ‘Pharisees’ are mentioned.  They were the Jewish teachers in that day, very similar to imams of today.  Isa (PBUH) mentions giving a ‘tenth’ to God.  This was the required Jewish Zakat.)

37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” (Luke 11: 37-44)

Touching a dead body made a Jew unclean according to the Law.  When Isa (PBUH) said that people walk over ‘unmarked graves’ he is saying that they are becoming unclean without them even ‘knowing it’ because they are neglecting the inner cleanliness.  It is an easy trap for a believer to only be concerned about outer cleanliness and forget the inner – and so become as unclean as the unbeliever who has no regard for any obligation.

The heart defiles the religiously clean person

In the following teaching, Isa al Masih (PBUH) quotes from the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) who lived 750 BC and wrote in the Zabur.  (see link here for historical timeline of Isaiah)

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”…

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”  (Matthew 15:1-20)

In this encounter with the teachers of Jewish law, Isa al Masih (PBUH) pointed out that we are quick to build our religious obligations from ‘human traditions’ rather than from the message of God. At the time of Isa al Masih (PBUH), the Jewish leaders ignored their obligation before Allah to care for their aged parents by giving their money to religious causes instead of helping their parents. The religious cause were really only man-made traditions.  Today it is much the same.  One scholar declares that a certain thing is haram while another says it is halal and we do not look to the message of the prophets in that matter.  But Allah is very concerned with the uncleanness coming from our hearts.  This uncleanness will result in our condemnation on the Day of Judgment much quicker than breaking human traditions.

Beautiful on the Outside but on the Inside full of wickedness

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (Matthew 23: 25-28)

In this discourse, Isa al Masih (PBUH) is stating what we all have seen.  Following outward cleanliness can be quite common amongst believers in God, but many of us believers are still full of greed and indulgence on the inside – even the people of religious importance.  Obtaining inner cleanliness is necessary – but it is much harder.  Allah will judge our inner cleanliness very carefully.  So the issue raises itself:  How do we clean our hearts so that we can enter the Kingdom of God on the Day of Judgment?  We continue in the Injil to find an answer.

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.

The Masih Revealed – by Teaching with Authority

After Isa al Masih (PBUH) was tempted by Shaytan (Iblis) he started to minister as a prophet with a unique teaching. This is especially seen in what is now called his Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Injil. You can read the complete Sermon on the Mount here. I summarize some highlights, and then we make a startling connection from what the Prophet Musa predicted in the Taurat. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught the following:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Masih and the Sermon on the Mount

You can see that Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught with the form “You have heard that it was said … But I tell you … ”. In this structure he usually quotes first from the Taurat, and then extends the scope of the command to motives, thoughts and words to a degree that is astonishing.  Isa al Masih taught by taking strict commands given through the Prophet Musa (PBUH) and made them even much more difficult to do!

But what is also remarkable is the reason that he extends the commands of the Taurat. He does so based on his own authority. He says simply ‘But I tell you…’ and with that he increases the scope of the command. This is one thing that was very unique about Isa al Masih. As the Injil states when he had finished this Sermon

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28-29)

Indeed, Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught as one who had great authority. Most prophets were only messengers that passed on a message from Allah, but here it was different. Why could Isa al Masih do this? As the ‘Masih’ which we saw here was a title given in the Zabur of a coming one, he had great authority. Psalm 2 of Zabur, where the Title of ‘Masih’ was first given described Allah speaking to the Masih in the following way

and I (Allah) will make the nations your (Masih’s) inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalm 2:8)

The Masih was given authority over the nations, even to the end of the earth. So as the Masih, Isa had the authority to teach in the way he did.

The Prophet and the Sermon on the Mount

In fact, as we saw here, in the Taurat, the prophet Musa (PBUH) had predicted the coming of ‘the Prophet’, who would be noted in the way he taught. Musa had written

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)

In teaching the way he did, Isa was exercising his authority as the Masih and fulfilling the prophecy of Musa of The Prophet who would teach with great authority. He was both Masih AND The Prophet.

You & me and the Sermon on the Mount

If you study carefully this Sermon on the Mount to see how you should live then you are probably confused. How can anyone live these kinds of commands that lay bare our hearts and our motives? What was Isa al Masih’s intent in giving this Sermon?  We can see the answer from his concluding sentence.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Notice that this is a command, not a suggestion. His requirement is that we be perfect! Why? Because God is perfect and if we are to be with Him in Paradise nothing less than perfect will do. We often think that perhaps simply more good than bad deeds – that will be sufficient. But if that were the case, and Allah let us enter his Paradise, we would destroy the perfection of Paradise and turn it into the mess that we have in this world. It is our lust, greed, anger that destroys our lives here today. If we go to Paradise still holding onto that lust, greed and anger than that Paradise will quickly become like this world – full of problems made by ourselves.

In fact, much of Isa al Masih’s teaching focused on our inner hearts rather than outward ceremony.  Consider how, in another teaching, he focuses on our inward hearts.

He (Isa) went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  (Mark 7:20-23)

So what is going on inside us is very important and the required standard is perfection.  Allah will only let the ‘perfect’ into his perfect paradise. But though that may sound fine in theory it raises a huge problem: How will we get into this Paradise if we are not perfect? The utter impossibility of us being perfect enough could cause us to despair. And that is what he wants! When we despair of ever being good enough, when we stop trusting in our own possible merits then we become ‘poor in spirit’. And Isa al Masih, in starting this whole Sermon, said:

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3)

The beginning of wisdom for us is not to dismiss these teachings as not applying to us. They do! The standard is to ‘Be perfect’. As we let that standard sink into us, and realize that we are not capable of that, then we are starting down the Straight Way. We start down this Straight Way because, recognizing our inadequacy, we may be more ready to accept help than if we thought we could do it by our own merits.