Can you imagine this?
A well-known philanthropist recently invited 100 public figures to a dinner in honor of the recipient of an award for charitable work. The award recipient’s name was a huge secret. Nobody even knew how the recipient had been selected. Everybody knew the host, and when word about the dinner got around, the guest list was a hot topic.
The editor of the local newspaper, famous for rooting out every vestige of racism in news reports and acerbic editorials, was shocked to discover that the president of a local neighborhood club that had never had a black member would be attending. He returned his invitation with a sharp reprimand to the host for his insensitivity to African-Americans. An elderly woman who made a habit of telling children about growing up in schools where no “darkies” attended discovered that the black superintendent of schools had been invited, and she responded with “no regrets, I will not attend.”
When the president of the local plumbers and pipefitters union heard that a candidate for the Senate whose principal campaign issue was right to work would be in attendance at the dinner, he publicly announced that he would refuse to attend in order to show solidarity with the working men and women of America. The candidate met with his top advisors and issued a statement that he would not attend an event hosted by someone who was so spineless that he thought he should pander to labor unions.
Nobody even knew that the social secretary of the local garden club had even been invited until she told her sister who told her cousin who blabbed in the break room that the garden club’s representative was also planning to celebrate Earth Day by taking fifty gardeners to “occupy” the sidewalk in front of the home of the plant manager for the local coal-fired power plant. The chill in the break room spilled over into the community, dampening enthusiasm for the dinner. The secretary declined her invitation, citing her abhorrence of the carbon footprint for such an event. The plant manager refused to give a reason, simply mailing his invitation back resealed with duct tape. The basketball coach, on the advice of his wife, claimed a conflicting engagement and booked a flight to Puerto Rico for that weekend.
When the host realized that nobody who had been invited would attend, he was temporarily flummoxed. The reasons, or lack of reasons, were confusing and self-centered. Every person had an agenda that left no room to honor anyone or anything but himself (or herself). For about a week he mulled over the situation, but then he hit on a solution.
On the appointed date for the dinner, a bus pulled up in front of the local homeless shelter. Most nights the shelter served 60 – 80 people, and the bus drove away with 71 people aboard. A limousine stopped at the office of a motel that had once been a Ramada Inn but now rented by the week. The limousine drove away with 14 startled guests. Three pickup trucks and a Range Rover spread out and located people camped under bridges and in clearings along the railroad tracks. The country club dining room where the award dinner had been scheduled filled up with people. Most were disheveled and unkempt. Some appeared to be sick. Many did not know what day it was. They ate and were filled, but there was food left over. The bus, the limousine and the trucks spread out and gathered up more people. After three shifts of people had eaten to satiety, the food was gone, and everyone went home.
As each group enjoyed dinner and chattered happily among themselves, the host stood up to speak. To each group he made the same speech:
Thank you for coming tonight. I just want to tell you that God loves you. You may have heard that this event was to be an award ceremony. The truth is that there never was an award. There is no prize on earth better than happily sharing a meal and a conversation with good people. God loves you and I love you. I hope you share this announcement with everyone you meet.
Jesus told a story like this once. His story was about what heaven will be like and his point was that people are likely to be surprised when they see who is in heaven and who is not. My point is that some people would not even want to be in heaven if certain others were there.
How do you feel about that?