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When I’m feeling entitled

By Charles Qualls

The word “entitled” or “entitlement” is being used a good bit lately. It seems to have become an inflammatory word, along with its cousin “privileged.” But the problem of people feeling spiritually entitled seems to be as old as the Bible itself. In this week’s Scripture from Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus told a parable and the stars of this story were entitled people.

The late Grady Nutt said, “I get a lot of people who want to know what I think Heaven will be like. I tell ‘em that Heaven’s going to be pretty different than we might think. Everything will be petitioned off into little areas. There’ll be a big ole area for the Baptists. Just follow your nose, because there’ll be the smell of all the fried chicken and casseroles at a Covered-Dish that’s going on. There’ll probably be a lot of singing.

“The Methodists will have a similar area because they’re a lot more like the Baptists than either group wants to let on. There’ll be one area where everything’s real orderly and everyone’s reading. That’ll be the Catholics. There’ll be another area a lot like that where there’s a lot of smoke and reading going on, and drinking. That’ll be the Episcopalians. One area will have a lot of extra bumper padding just so no one gets hurt. That’ll be the Pentecostals.”

“Then I answer seriously,” Nutt said. “I think we’re all gonna be real surprised in Heaven. Because of who’s there that you didn’t think would be there. And because of who’s not there, but were so sure they would be there!”

If this parable today is perplexing, the related parable right before it in Matthew 21 is downright disturbing. The message is a bit more clear in some ways, though. The vineyard owner sent his servants out to collect fruit that was rightfully his when the harvest came due, but the tenants killed his servants. In the parable, the “servants” symbolized the Old Testament prophets who we know were not received well.

Then, the vineyard owner thought, “Well, they’ll respect my son. They’ll receive him better.” So, he sent his son out and they killed him, too. Are you getting the picture? You don’t have to have a seminary degree to diagnose that this parable is about humanity, the religiously pious and its reception of God’s invitation to grace. Including grace through Jesus Christ.

To be sure we get from this what we should, we have to be straight on some of the imagery Jesus uses here. The king who threw the party represents God. The original invited guests symbolize the religious elite of Jesus’ time; the pious and entitled of the Temple culture. But we need to be careful, for we can easily be today’s pious and entitled. Those too sure of who’s in and who’s out in God’s sight.

The “open” invitation then shows God opening the kingdom of Heaven to all who would accept through Christ, not just to the chosen. Then, we have the disturbing last part about the one who came in without a wedding robe. They took him and threw him out!

If we were just hearing a story about someone’s party, to which they invited all strangers, and we heard that they threw one person out because he was under-dressed, we’d be horrified. If we were just talking about how they were dressed. But we’re not, are we? The wedding robe represents righteous acts and living; those who bear a resemblance to Christ.

So one without a “robe” would be one who doesn’t bear a resemblance of the Son. It appears that in the parable, all truly are invited. But not all will be chosen because not all want to be chosen. God won’t force Godself upon us. Nor does God care for us trying to wield our Christianity onto others by force, manipulation or guilt.

We have to understand who Jesus was challenging in his place and time. But, we also have to be careful about drawing an entitled, anti-Semitic lesson from it. Because if we do, we quickly become the guest who showed up with no wedding robe on. When I am feeling entitled, it robs me of my gratitude. When I am feeling entitled, the true value of people and things is a lot harder to see. When I am feeling entitled, I may miss out on some of the greatest opportunities a human could have because they just don’t look all that great.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.