There is a scene in the film Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella gently argues with Ray Liotta’s Shoeless Joe Jackson. Shoeless Joe had just invited the writer, Terrance Mann (played by James Earl Jones), to follow him into the corn, which in the film is the symbol of heaven. Ray (Kinsella, not Liotta) grew excited with anticipation of what would be experienced on the other side of the corn. He expected to go. But Shoeless Joe informs him: “You’re not invited.” That’s when Ray grew irritated and began to argue his case. “What do you mean I am not invited?! After all I’ve done! What’s in it for me?” Shoeless Joe rhetorically asks: “Is that why you did it, Ray? For you?”
That scene intrigues me, because it reflects a conversation that many people will have one day with Jesus. And it is not only people in general that come to mind, but many who are wonderful, committed, churched people, who will be told, “You’re not invited,” while many less “worthy” are receiving gold-clustered engraved invites.
Why won’t these who gave themsleves to much for the sake of the church be invited? Because they don’t understand the basis of the invitation; they don’t understand the heart of the Host.
“Jesus says the kingdom of His Father is not a subdivision for the self-righteous nor for those who feel they possess the state secret of salvation. The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there. No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.”
In Isaiah 55 the Lord extends an invitation:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Notice that this invitation is eerily akin to the one depicted in Field of Dreams. The invitation is made by the Lord of Hosts to those he wants to invite. Those he invites here are those who are not able to pay their own way; spiritually those who don’t have enough righteousness to warrant an invite. Conversely, there are some, like Ray in the movie, who feel desering; who have stored up some moral savings, i.e. good deeds or righteousness. To them the Lord says, “What that’ll get you isn’t as good as if you come to my party purely as another invited ‘unworthy’ guest”.
Among the most difficult things I have to deal with as a pastor are people who are much like Ray Kinsella – maybe even better. These are good people, kind people, people who have sacrificed much, qualities Ray has in the movie. In addition to Ray’s qualities, many of these people are also responsible and exercise wisdom in their daily lives. In other words, they have their act together – far more than I do. Ray did not exercise those traits in the film. In fact, he was raging against the fact that his who life up to that point had been lived out in practicality. But he was good; he was deserving. He just wasn’t invited.
It seems that to be around such people would be a pleasure. And it is. And that’s part of what makes it so difficult. They are wonderful people to be around, but it is very difficult for many of them to accept that those God invites to the party – those Jesus died for – are not the prim and proper but people who are a mess, people more like me. Only those who are willing to come as unworthy guests are invited.
But Isaiah 55 does give me comfort about this matter. It shows that God says that polished people can come to the party too, if only they will put away the wallets in which they store their own goodness and righteousness.