Who’s Really “In”?
The weather is still cold but in the South the gloves are out, the balls and bats are by the dugout, and the Little League coaches are already shouting out their instructions. The T-ball player was only five, but five or not, you have to take your turn learning to run the bases. It’s a long way around the horn, and as the little guy rounded third and headed for home, four of his teammates gathered around the plate, and taunted, “You’re so slow! Can’t you run faster? Nobody will want you to play on their team!” His shoulders slumped, his eyes looked down, and the little guy ran even slower. Even a five-year-old knows when he is being excluded from the “in” group.
The “in group” in Jesus’ day were the Jews, especially those living in Israel. Though the Romans dominated politically and militarily, they recognized the high ethics and beauty of the Jewish religion. The Jerusalem priests reigned at the top of this religious hierarchy. The Gentiles, the non-Jews, were at the bottom. They were outside. Get close to the special, sacred places in the Temple, and a Gentile could get killed. This is what makes Jesus’ teaching during His last week so penetrating.
He began to make predictions that Gentiles would be welcomed into His Father’s Kingdom while the initially invited guests would miss the party. The Jerusalem leadership took the brunt of His criticism.
When they asked the Prophet from Nazareth about His authority, He asked them why they didn’t believe John the Baptist’s message. Then pointed out, “But the tax-collectors and prostitutes believed in him. And you saw this but still wouldn’t change your mind and believe him.” - Matthew 21: 32
Later in the Temple courts Jesus told a story about a vineyard where the hired tenants beat up and murder the owner’s servants and then the master’s son. Jesus concluded with these solemn words, “Therefore the Kingdom of God will be take away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.“ - Matthew 21:43
It’s not just the religious leadership in Jerusalem who need to listen to Jesus’ warnings. When we think we are “in” with God but refuse to trust His Son and obey Him, we will find ourselves outside. It’s not our birth, our race, or our zealous fulfillment of tradition. We must admit like the tax-collectors and prostitutes that we are sinners and allow Jesus to give us the right clothes for His wedding—the gift of His righteousness. I need to remember that He’s the One who decides who is “in” and who is “out.”
A dad climbed down out of the stands, jumped the fence, and walked toward home. As soon as the little foot touched the plate, strong arms lifted him high and said, “Son, you’re on my team and remember that’s the team that counts.” The former big leaguer wiped the moist cheeks, and all the parents knew that with genes like that, there was a good chance that in the future a lot of people would want that kid on their team.
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