You’re late

Trains run on time in Italy and last year I had the experience of catching a train with only seconds to go before the doors closed. An hour of tension and frustration had preceded this final triumph as we lost our way and later got held up in traffic. My ticket was for that train only and if I had missed it heaven knows what palaver I would have had to endure.

From our schooldays onwards many of us, I suppose, have heard those dreaded words, “you’re late!” They announce that -we are cut off from what we expected and unforeseen, sometimes unpleasant, consequences follow. Mutemwa, a settlement near Mutoko originally for people suffering from leprosy and now also a community that welcomes chronically ill or destitute people, literally means “a place cut off.”

There are many ways in which we can be excluded and, though our world is a more tolerant one than that of our forebears, the experience is still very real. Migrants driven from their homes by persecution or poverty often find they are not wanted in the countries they try to reach for security and a better life. The host nation closes its doors and they find themselves on the outside in frightening conditions.

What if this experience of exclusion was to reach beyond the grave and we find we are not known or wanted on “the other side?” How would we feel then? Jesus seems to point to this when he warns his hearers in the parable of the master locking his door (Luke 13:22-30). The people knocking hear the words, “You’re late. I do not know you or where you come from.” They plead, “Don’t you know me? You walked in our streets and ate in our house.”

It is a frightening story about presumption. In the first instance it is about those in Israel who thought, “We are God’s people. He is on our side no matter what we do.” No, they had to show the “works of God” (John 6:29) which was “to believe in the one whom he has sent.” Otherwise they would be excluded.

But it goes further: the message is also addressed to anyone who presumes that God is on their side and no matter how they live their life they will never be excluded. The words of the gospel give little support of this view. On the contrary they suggest that we cut ourselves off, we shut ourselves out, by the bad choices we make. “Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth when you find yourselves outside. And others will come from east and west, from north and south, and take their places in the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is “making his way to Jerusalem”, the city of the climax of his mission. The whole passage is charged with promise and threat. It mirrors our own time and experience.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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