It’s a new year! God be praised if you are in it, alive and well. The newness of the year often brings a new bounce to our steps. It is almost as if life is lived more intentionally in the month of January. We seem to be intentional about our health, our relationships, our careers and together with all that is dear to us. However, something happens a few weeks in. It is as if by the month of February, someone somewhere pressed our “Restore Factory Settings” button. The familiar resumes when the newness of the year fades away.
This sudden upsurge of commitment followed by a grand drop can have little to no effect if the commitment was to walk your dog every week. But if that commitment is tied to matters that are pivotal to your living, and even more, to your eternal life, then you must investigate. While I am aware that many sociology experts have given sufficient responses to this e.g. set realistic goals, have accountability, think of the holiday you want etc and you will keep up with the new, I find a Biblical story by Jesus that speaks to our hearts concerning the excitement of new things.
Luke 14:15-24 (NIV) THE PARABLE OF THE GREAT BANQUET
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”
Jesus tells a parable of an invitation to a banquet. The message of the invitation is an invitation to salvation. The invite is out and the host awaits the responses from the invitees. They reject the dinner invite for a number of reasons. The first has bought a new piece of land. The second has bought five new oxen. The third has acquired a new spouse. The common thing in all these rejection responses is that they are too preoccupied with the new things in their lives to accept the invitation.
When I got a new mountain bike when I was 12, I was in pre-teens’ heaven. It was one of a kind. It had the latest suspensions on the wheels and it had up to 24 gears. Many mountain bikes at that time had 21 or 18. I literally spent the whole day riding the bike, polishing the bike, staring at the bike, inspecting the bike and talking about the bike. I even skipped lunch on some days to just be with the bike. The new bike when I was 12 did something else to me apart from feeling good. It won me friends. I became the cool kid in the block. Every kid wanted to ride the new bike and every kid had to ask Ernest for permission to ride it. In hindsight, I realise three things:
- The new bike made me feel loved and accepted.
- The new bike made me feel significant and important
- The new bike made me feel safe.
Love and acceptance
I felt loved and accepted because of the new bike. Why? It brought me friends. It brought me into social circles that I would not enter. Those kids whose attention I wanted now gave me that attention.
Significance and importance
I felt significant and important because of the new bike. Why? Older kids had to speak to me politely and shake my hand if they wanted to ride it. I could say no to anyone I did not want to ride the bike. I was treated well in school by some friends because they wanted a ride on the weekend. I was a little boss and I felt significant and important.
The new bike made me feel safe. Why? As long as I had it and as long as it remained clean and new, I had the admiration of other people. The social circles I had developed because of this bike would remain. When I saw the bike, I felt the dopamine hit my brain, I saw my friends and I felt safe.
The problem with new things
But there is a problem with this. You see, new things fade. And my bike began to lose its shine. Soon another friend got a new bike. Only when my bike stood next to his did I begin to notice the little scratches, the faded stickers and the dusty cog wheels. I no longer had the new bike in town. And it came with loss. The allegiance shifted. Kids now wanted to ride the newer bike. My bike was so last month! And at that moment I realised three things.
- I was feeling less loved and accepted.
- I was feeling less significant and important
- I was not feeling safe.
16 years later and nothing has changed except the toy. The bike is now an iPad. And I sense the same preoccupation over the new things I get in my life just the same way as a 12-year-old. The innocence of childhood may have overlooked a scratch on a bike when there was no other bike to compare it too, but the self-awareness of adulthood would make my head swim if my iPad got a scratch. Why? Its newness would be fading! Or rather, just like the bike, its capacity to bring me love and acceptance would be fading. Its capacity to make me feel significant and important would be fading. Its capacity to make me feel safe would be fading. As an adult, now self-aware, I catch my heart deceiving me when I want new things and new experiences. A new car promises attention from your friends. A new boyfriend promises family approval. A new career promises the admiration of colleagues. A new baby promises social concern. And what are attention, approval, admiration and social concern but methods of trying to receive love and affection, significance and importance and security. While 12-year-olds will outgrow bikes, adults may never outgrow deceived hearts. They must realise that their hearts will never be content with the new that is fading.
So are new things bad? Of course not! Just look at Jesus’ parable keenly. When the man invited his friends to the banquet and they refused, he was not angry at the new field, the new oxen and the new wife. He was angry at his old friends. It was their hearts he was enraged against not their stuff. He was upset that their preoccupation with the new clouded their need to accept the invitation. But Ernest, you may say, surely this man inviting his friends should understand that they have a life as well. I mean, a new wife needs attention, does she not? New oxen need to be tested, right? New fields need to be inspected, no? True. All true. But will attending this banquet break the marriage? Will it burn the field? And will it kill the oxen? The answer is no, it won’t. The only reason the banquet is ignored by those who have been invited is because it doesn’t seem important and it doesn’t beat the allure of their new things. A deceived heart will downplay the offer of the Saviour and focus on the fading new things.
This is the message of Jesus: that his banquet invitation is not a trivial matter; it is an offer of eternal life. It is the only offer that gives love and affection, significance and importance and security that can never be taken away. Jesus’ offer to die in your place and have your sins forgiven tells you that God has placed such high importance on your soul that he has left his glory in heaven and he had laid down his life to save it. If Barack Obama died for me I’d feel important. But this is the creator of Barack- the Creator of the Universe- you are significant because of the cross. Jesus’ offer tells you that you are infinitely loved and accepted. Your most minute of sins qualify you eternal damnation but God has said he wants you anyway. You have sinned intentionally and spit at his face and he said he wants you anyway. You are loved and accepted. Jesus’ offer finally promises security. He says in John 10 that none of his sheep will be snatched from his hand and separated from his love. If the President said it, I would use his word as confident back up. This is not the president of a tiny republic making this offer. This is the Lord of all Creation making this offer and he has a pretty neat track record of not going back on his promises like our earthly politicians. If you understand the invite to the banquet, you will know that the new oxen can wait, the new field can wait and the new spouse can wait.
These new things of earth can glitter and dazzle us to the point that we forget how important this invite is. The invite to the banquet is so resplendent but it can look trivial if we take our eyes off it. Even the allure of copper seems dazzling when you take your eyes off the gold. The bright but fading things of this world can make you forget the glory and infinite joy of salvation if your heart is fixed on them. The message of Jesus is that his banquet (unlike our fading toys and joys) does not lose its resplendence. The new oxen with time lose their strength. The new field with time loses its arability. The new wife with time loses her beauty. And perhaps it is the reason so many humans seek to upgrade to newer things when the older ones fade. And when we can’t upgrade, we lose our momentum. Perhaps that is why the newness of January’s resolutions dies out in February. Jesus’ offer gets brighter and brighter once you accept it. Maybe we don’t need a new year (every year). Maybe we need a new heart to see that the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory. Perhaps, it is the reason why the poor and the crippled in the parable (those without new things to distract them) see the full splendour and newness of the banquet being offered. Perhaps when God empties me this 2018 even when I have all the new things I long for, or denies me some of the new things that I long for, it is to give me the eyes of the cripple and the poor so that I may see the splendour of his banquet invite and stop making excuses. Perhaps it is to change my deceived heart.
When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, we begin to see that he is the brightest thing that ever shone when he laid down his life on the cross for us. When we see his faithfulness to us right now even when we sin and fail, we realise that he is still the brightest thing. And when we see him return, he will still be the brightest thing. When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, we begin to see that his newness does not fade; instead it gets brighter and brighter. And if we choose to live for him and not turn aside our eyes, we will begin to realise that living the righteous life is better than craving for any fading new thing. It is better than a new boyfriend. It is better than a new car. It is better than a new marriage. It is better than a new school. Why? Because it is the only newness that gets shinier and shinier, brighter and brighter, more beautiful and beautiful. Perhaps it is why Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:18 “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (NIV)
The new oxen, the new field and the new marriage are great. I by no means advocate for an extreme ascetic view of life in the name of spirituality. In fact I believe that the new oxen, new field and new spouse will only be truly enjoyed when we have the new Saviour. We don’t need new things to enjoy life. We need new life to enjoy new things. But in as much as they are great, we must remember that their brilliance will never last. Our hearts must be captured to adore the only brilliance that not only lasts, but also gets newer. And that brilliance is Christ. If our hearts are captivated by the fading new, they will wilt when the new fades. And if we do not guard our hearts, the fading new can make us forget the importance of the banquet invite by the increasingly new Saviour. This 2018, go for the new by all means, but never at the expense of the ultimate newness of Christ. Have a Happy New Year!