Seeing the world through a theological lens...
Luke 13:22-30 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
One of my favorite places to eat when I lived in Central Jersey was the Manville Diner. Manville is a small, 2x2 sq. mile mostly blue-collar town. Though it's divided into sections, the whole town is really one neighborhood. In the 80's the factory closed leaving over half the town out of work. It's built between 2 rivers so flooding is a huge problem. Railroad tracks run through the center of town causing traffic back ups. There is a downtown area dotted with small Mom and Pop businesses struggling to exist. It has a handful of schools and still supports its own high school. It was our home for 25 years. It's where we raised our children, where my husband and I worked, and where we made the best friends of our lives.
As for the Manville Diner: It's not flashy. The food is diner fare, and the prices are diner fair. It's small inside and out, and maneuvering to one's seat can sometimes be a challenge. People often stand in the aisle, stopping and lingering at another table to talk to the folks already seated. If you ask them 'politely' to move out of the way, you may or may not be answered with a scowl, a sigh, or a swear word. It's not that they are bad people- on the contrary- the people of Manville are among the finest, most caring, giving, and helpful people I've ever met. They are resilient. They are respectful. They have endured hardship together. They have pulled one another out of flood waters, felt one another's pain, and stood by one another for decades.
If you live in Manville or have ever lived in Manville, you are known as a 'Manvillian.' If you live in Manville or have ever lived in Manville, you are 'known,' period. People know your name. They know where you live and who lived in that house before you did and where those people are now. They know what car you drive. They know what you do for a living. They know your kids and your dog and have no problem calling you out when your kids or your dog gets out of line.
Manville doesn't have the reputation of other larger, more affluent or prestigious towns. They don't care. They don't even want it. What they do have, is the kind of tight knit community that they and their ancestors created; and they live into that community with pride.
They come to the diner as much for the community as they do for a meal. They realize the two are not just intertwined, but integral to each other. So when you're disturbing one or the other of the things they hold dear, yes, you may get a less than 'polite' reaction. It doesn't mean they don't want you there or that you aren't welcome. It means you should know better. It means community comes first. It means connecting with friends and neighbors and delving into the everyday stuff, the small stuff, is the important stuff... the stuff that lasts.
In today's passage Jesus talk about the narrow door- how difficult it is to give up the life, the lure, the look, of wealth and status. To care for people, to make room for the least of these, to stand with the brokenhearted, to support one another in love in a way that people come first- this is the Kingdom of God. Those living for anything other than connection and communion, both with God and other people, are missing out. Getting caught up in keeping what they have, caring for things, cultivating power, the 'first' by the world's standards, lack the true grit and guts of community. No wonder there is weeping and gnashing of teeth for them- they have missed a glorious and God given opportunity to be part of something that really counts... the stuff that lasts.
The people of Manville haven't missed it. It's not that they are problem free, not by a long shot. No place, no people is perfect. But they haven't missed it. Oh, that all should be so gifted.