Surah As-Sajdah (Surah 32 – The Prostration) describes those who pray fervently in prostration and then says of their reward
Now no person knows what delights of the eye are kept hidden (in reserve) for them – as a reward for their (good) deeds. (Surah As-Sajdah 32:17)
Surah Ar-Rahman (Surah 55 – The Beneficient) for 31 times from ayahs 33 – 77 asks the question
Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny? (Surah Ar-Rahman 55:13 – 77)
If such delights are in store for the righteous, we would think that no one would deny such favors from the Lord. That seems terribly foolish. But the Prophet Isa al Masih PBUH taught a parable to teach us that we are in real danger of denying these favors of the Lord which have been stored away for us. First a little review.
We saw the prophet Isa al Masih’s (PBUH) Word of Authority such that diseases and even nature obeyed his command. He also taught about the Kingdom of God. Several of the prophets of Zabur had written about a coming Kingdom of God. Isa built on this to teach that the Kingdom was ‘near’.
He first taught the Sermon on the Mount, showing how citizens of the Kingdom of God were to love each other. Think of the misery, death, injustice and horror we experience today (just listen to the news) because we do not listen to his teaching about love. If living in the Kingdom of God is to be different than the sometimes hellish life in this world then we need to treat each other differently – with love.
Parable of the Great Party
Since so few live in the way that Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught you would think that very few would be invited into the Kingdom of God. But this is not so. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught about a great banquet (a party) to illustrate how wide and far the invitation to the Kingdom reaches. But there are twists. Those we think are the most likely to be invited, religious leaders like imams, and other good people miss the party. The Injil recounts:
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 story. First, 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 is wrong. The invitation to come to the Banquet goes to many, many people. The Master (Allah in this parable) wants the Banquet to be full. That is encouraging.
But there is an unexpected twist. Very few of the guests actually want to come, instead they made excuses so they would not have to! And think how unreasonable the excuses are. Who would buy oxen without first having tried them out before he bought them? Who would buy a field without first already looking it over? No, these excuses revealed the true intentions of the hearts of the guests – they were not interested in the Kingdom of God but had other interests instead.
Just when we think that perhaps 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” – those 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 and decline 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 hide 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 (represented by the ‘field’, ‘oxen’ and ‘marriage’) more than the Kingdom of God.
Parable of the Unjustified Religious Imam
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 using a religious leader similar to an imam as an example:
9 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 is 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 this imam placed his confidence in his own righteousness. This was not what the prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) had shown so long before when he received 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 been given mercy he went home ‘justified’ – right with God – while the Pharisee (imam), who we assume is ‘right with God’ has his sins still counted against him.
So the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) 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 next teaching – that we need Inner Cleanliness.