I could feel the sunlight on my face and even in my semi-conscious state, I knew this wasn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be daylight. Our adventure was supposed to begin while it was still dark, at some unfamiliar hour like 4:00 a.m. We were going to get dressed and pack our stuff while Mom made snacks for the trip, and the adults began to load the cars. I’d end up in the back seat of one of the cars–stuck in the middle again, of course, but in this case, I wouldn’t care. There’d be no complaints on this day, because we’d be heading off to the beach to go fishing, and not just fishing off the pier with a bunch of people crowding around us. My uncle planned to rent a couple of boats, and we were actually going out on the bay. The thought was mesmerizing.
Dawn of Disappointment ~
Closed eyelids could neither hide the bright morning sunlight streaming in through a crack in the curtain, nor the truth that poured in with it. It was way past 4:00 a.m., and something had gone dreadfully wrong. The house was so quiet I could hear Grandma’s cuckoo clock ticking out in the hallway. It was clear that nobody was packing anything to go anywhere, and a sense of despair began to creep in. I didn’t know yet what went wrong, but I knew that my grand adventure had somehow died in the night while I slept and all that was left of its lifeless corpse was a lump in my throat and a consuming sense of disappointment.
Grandma met me as I headed downstairs. “Where’s everybody, Ma?” I squeaked out through the tears. “And why is it so late?” She tried to force a smile and sound upbeat as she hugged me and said, “Oh, you didn’t want to have to ride in that cramped car for hours and then be stuck out in the hot sun on that old boat all day, did you?”
No Recourse ~
The impact of what she said took a minute to sink in, and if I had words to respond to her, I don’t remember what they were. I just remember how it felt to have been left out–that awful, overwhelming feeling of rejection and helplessness–left behind with no warning, no preparation, no second chance, no appeal, no recourse, and no power to change anything.
The adults in charge had decided that it was going to be too crowded and leaving one of the kids at home was the best solution. At nine, I was the youngest, and would probably just waste their bait and not catch anything anyway. Besides, I’d be the one likely to end up sunburned and be whining in pain all the way home. They knew it wouldn’t be pleasant for me to wake up and find them gone, but I’d get over it. I still feel bad for Grandma getting stuck with the task of trying to tell me that being left out was somehow a good thing.
Not an Unusual Story ~
Episodes like this are not all that unique. Most of us have experienced some event where we felt unfairly excluded, and those memories are painful. Sometimes those experiences get molded into an argument against any form of exclusivity at all, especially when there are significant implications. The impassioned rhetoric on both sides of the immigration issue is indicative of the emotional volatility inherent in the question of who’s allowed in, and who gets shut out. Not surprisingly, Jesus was confronted with this issue more than once.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day thought they had God figured out. They were the recognized arbiters of who was and wasn’t acceptable, and they were not accustomed to being told by anyone where they could or could not go. What an affront it must have been to them to hear an unauthorized Rabbi with no certified credentials declare that the day was coming when they would want to be in His presence but would not be allowed to enter. Jesus’ words were personal, absolute, and presented with an authoritative finality that was sobering. Here’s what He said:
…I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come. John 8:21 (NKJV)
A Profound Paradox ~
When the Pharisees pompous pretext of holiness encountered God in human flesh, it became clear that they really didn’t know Him at all. In their arrogant, superficial self-righteousness, they declared His words unacceptable and His presence undesirable. Jesus exposed their hypocrisy, and they hated Him for it. What a profound paradox; they despised and rejected the very God they claimed to know and serve.
Jesus didn’t exclude the Pharisees because He didn’t like them. They were not shut out of the love that took Him to the cross for every flawed and fallen member of the human race. What was disallowed in His Kingdom was their self-righteous arrogance and pretentious dishonesty. Their refusal to confess and relinquish it left no alternative but to exclude them as well.
Never Again ~
Our memories of being unjustly left out make it hard for us to grasp that God would do that to anyone, but God isn’t like those who let us down. He knows what our bitter disappointments felt like, and He never wants us to feel left out again, so He banned forever from His Kingdom anything that could possibly hurt us like that anymore–no lies, no selfishness, no manipulative schemes, no hatred, no painful imperfections. He has declared to every fallen human frailty, “… where I am, you cannot come.” The only people left out are those who refuse to allow Him to remove the attitudes and behaviors that would infect Heaven with the same plague that fills the earth with pain here and now.
Jesus doesn’t want any of us excluded, quite the contrary. He said,
… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:2-3 (NKJV)
He promises something much better than a fishing trip, and the only thing that will cause us to be left out of His Kingdom is to refuse to allow Him to reign over ours.
© 2018 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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