Are you in or Out?
Are you in or out? This question was commonly said by my mom growing up. There was many a time when I would be chasing my cousins out the door to go play when I would suddenly think to say something to my sisters who were still inside, and there I stood in the doorway, torn between the direction I was going and the thing I needed to say to my sisters, when those words would ring forth, are you in or out? This was my mother’s way of saying “you are letting all of the cool air out and that costs us more money, so either come fully inside and finish your conversation or go outside and play, but you can’t do both. In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus speaks of a door, in which a person is either in or out, but certainly never both.
Jesus is continuing on his journey to Jerusalem. As you might recall from last week, Jesus is focused upon his ultimate mission of his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, but is also mindful of the need to teach his disciples what they need to know, and as if that wasn’t enough, the crowds continue to gather to him. Sometimes the crowds come seeking healing or teaching. Other times the people come to challenge Jesus’s authority. As the journey to Jerusalem section progresses, we see Jesus getting more and more cryptic in his responses to the crowds. Luke 12:23 says: “and someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’” And Jesus doesn’t answer that question. It seems like Jesus responds by implying that the person asked the wrong question and Jesus suggests the better question to ask is, “how can someone be saved” rather than the number, for Jesus responds “strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘we ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
This story serves as a cryptic warning for anyone who is too certain of their own salvation. From the onset of the question, it would seem that the unnamed individual was certain of his salvation for he (I will assume it was a man), doesn’t ask how to be saved but instead is like, “hey, are there only a small number of us elite individuals who will be saved, just how exclusive is this thing that I am a part of?” And Jesus is like, first of all, don’t be so certain of your own salvation, but instead strive to enter through the narrow door. This is a somewhat ironic statement because we know that the only way to enter through the narrow door is to not strive at all, but rather to put your trust in Jesus. But the old system, that God had established, necessitated struggle, and every good Jew believed that if he struggled to follow the law then he will be saved. This is why Jesus can say that many will seek to enter but will not be able to, because the way in is not by good deeds but through submission to Jesus as Lord. Jesus then says to the crowd, who likely believed that because they are descended from Abraham, because they came from Abraham, they were in, and in Jesus’s story he says that the master will say to the crowd, “I do not know where you come from.” Jesus also tells the crowd that they will respond to the master at the door, who is Jesus in this story, and say to him “we ate and drank with you, and we listened to your teaching.” But Jesus will again say to them “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil.” As if to say you are no child of Abraham but rather the devil. And then Jesus speaks of the end times and the final judgment, where there is the place outside of the door with weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the place inside the door with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but those in the crowd are out. And adding insult to injury, there are people from east, west, north, and south, in other words the nations, those not ethnically Jewish, who will recline at table in the kingdom of God. And some who were not descendants of Abraham, those who were last are now first, and those who were first, whom God first chose to be a part of His rule, they will be last.
Jesus continues to articulate just how out people are if they think of themselves as being in because of their works and ethnicity as the Pharisees approach Jesus with a warning “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” This would seem to be a lie to try to get Jesus to go away from where those Pharisees operated, because later on in Luke, it says “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he has heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.” Jesus seeing through the Pharisees and ever mindful of his ultimate mission, says “Go and tell that fox, behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” And Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Here we see how Jesus laments that those who should be counted as God’s chosen people are not in but out. How he wishes the children of Jerusalem, which represents all the Israelites, would come to Jesus, and that all of them would be in the only way that anyone can be, by putting your trust in Jesus and calling him your Lord and savior. But they won’t come to Jesus as he desires. Instead they won’t see Jesus, they will not go near to him until Palm Sunday, when they cry “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Another irony, for they praise him with their words, by then their fate is sealed for they do not truly see him as Lord and savior, but instead see him as a magic man who performs miraculous healings.
Oh the poor Jews, who ought to have known Jesus for the Son of God, and should have taken his words to heart and repented while there was still a chance. The Jews, who should have known that the way in the door was solely through Jesus and not their heritage and not their works. But is this warning only for the Jews or the crowd? Are we exempt from the many who seek to enter the door and are not able to? This warning is for us as well. For we too should not be so certain of our heritage, our worship practices, or anything else we do as the source of our confidence that we will be let in the narrow door. Are we ever tempted to claim “we ate and drank your body and blood, you taught us in the sermons,” as if it is for those reasons that we should be counted amongst the saved? Don’t misunderstand me, these are good things to participate in, and we believe that those are both means by which God’s grace and forgiveness is extended to us. But our faith should be in Jesus who comes to us, and not in the actions that we do. We still must strive to continually trust in Jesus fully, and submit to his Lordship fully, in all aspects of our lives. Find your hope and security in Jesus, and not in the outward signs that you do, lest you be like Jerusalem of old, who acknowledged Jesus with their words “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” but their hearts were far from him. Are you in or out? You cannot put your hand to the plow and look back, you cannot serve two masters, and you must be all in with your trust in Jesus, or you will not enter through the narrow door.