As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel; take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:22-27)
On three different occasions in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus predicted he would endure great suffering through betrayal, rejection, and the punishment of a cruel death. He wanted to remind the apostles the very reason for his being. Jesus defeated the powers of death and Satan through his cross and resurrection. The Lord Jesus offers us true freedom and peace which no one can take from us.
But it is our choice, isn’t it?
Throughout our life as followers of Christ, we are reminded of that invitation. It comes to us in the daily cycles of our living. Many of you here have the general knowledge that you should make contact with another. But every so often God puts in your mind a thought, or you catch something in the glance of another person, or you turn a corner and suddenly realize that God is personally asking you, “Why not do something about that now? I am inviting you to act.”
Now God keeps sending these personal invitations because God loves us and desires that we have a deeper and richer life. But no matter how many times the invitation is sent, we retain the freedom to choose, the freedom to refuse the invitation. We are too busy or we don’t feel like doing that or our immediate family takes priority.
When we choose to refuse a personal invitation of God, there are consequences. When a person refuses the invitation to take some action to heal their marriage, that choice might well lead to a life that is empty or to the upheaval of divorce. When we choose to put aside to some other day the opportunity to make contact with someone that we love, reach out to an ageing parent, spend more time with our children, tell the truth, or reach out in reconciliation to someone else, God does not become angry. But we have no guarantee that the same invitation will be offered to us tomorrow.
If such opportunities slip through our hands, we have to deal with the consequences.
God will not punish us, but life will. There is no more bitter pain than the realization that things could have been different if I would have chosen better, if I would have said yes to the invitation that was offered to me.
Circumstances in our life change. What is possible today is not always possible tomorrow. The people with whom we need to be reconciled will not always be with us. The people we want to thank or tell them that we love them could be taken in an instant. When that happens, the door is locked and we can no longer get in.
But it is not just the circumstances in our life that can change. We ourselves change depending upon our decisions.
Every time we say no to an opportunity for life or growth it is easier to say no again. Every time we make a decision not to act, we begin to build a habit that lessons our freedom. The decision not to be honest moves us closer to living a lie. The decision not to be generous and forgiving begins to create a pattern of selfishness and inflexibility. Every time we say no to a good opportunity, we reduce the chances of recognizing the next opportunity that comes along. God will never cease to provide opportunities. The grace of God will never dry up. But we can dry up.
That is the warning of today’s Gospel. God will never change in God’s desire to save us. But our circumstances can change and we can change. God will never lock the door to shut us out. But the circumstances of our life can shut us out, and we can lose the desire to enter by the choices we refuse to make. If there is an open door in your life, walk through it. If you need to forgive someone, do it. If you need to thank someone or tell someone that you love them, don’t wait until tomorrow. If there is an opportunity for change or growth, take it. God will never change, but our lives can.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, your death brought true life and freedom. May I always walk in the freedom and power of your love and truth and reject whatever is contrary to your will for my life.”
God’s will is to save us. God is always willing and open to invite us in to eternal life. But salvation is a two-way street. It requires our participation. God’s intention is not the only factor. God will never change in God’s desire to save us. But two things can change: our circumstances and our very selves. When these things change, we can find that the door in fact is locked.