This is the fourth article in our series, “Building a Kingdom Culture in Our Youth Ministries.” In this series, we will address passages from the Gospel of Luke, which demonstrates that the culture of God’s Kingdom is that of grace and mercy for the poor, the weak, and the failing. It’s a culture built on grace meeting humility and vulnerability. Read the previous article in this series here.
The Kingdom of God is a rather big mystery. There are many things that we will never know about it (this side of heaven). Yet there is plenty we do know, valuable characteristics that are important to emphasize to our young people. One of those characteristics is that the kingdom is made up of the poor and downtrodden. We know this because Jesus made statements about it while he was teaching on earth. He claimed that he was here for the “sick,” because the healthy did not need a physician. It is important to take note of this radical statement, because the religious leaders of the first century missed his point.
We see this evidenced in a dinner party that Jesus was invited to, recorded in Luke 14.
Jesus challenges the host to invite people to his future parties who will likely be unable to repay the favor (the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind), because the gesture will ultimately be of greater reward in heaven. Another guest responds to this instruction saying, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).
This comment leads to a parable from Jesus about what the kingdom of God will really look like. Jesus shares the story of a great host who had prepared a gorgeous banquet. In the story, the time had come for the guests to arrive, so he sent out his servant to remind them. However, the guests all turn down the invitation because of more pressing matters – none of them in-errantly evil tasks, but for what they were giving up and who they were slighting, they were incredibly trivial. The master, upon hearing this news, sent out his servants to bring in the beggars and cripples off the streets. He would fill his house with those who had nothing in this world, those who had been rejected.
The religious elite passed over the significance of the host’s invitation. When it came time for the feast, they had more important things to do.
Jesus came to establish His kingdom on earth, and while in many ways it is “not yet,” it is also now. We have all been invited, but it is only those who recognize that they are poor and destitute who can truly accept all that the invitation offers.
It is crucial that we understand the role that we play in this story. On one level we, as ministers of the gospel, are the servants being sent out with this glorious invitation. We are to go to those who are poor and downtrodden and invite them to join in the kingdom. We can demonstrate the love of God in loving our downcast neighbor.
The “poor” and “downtrodden” are not limited to homeless people and international refugees, though. On a fundamental level, we are all poor and needy. And we have all been extended this same magnificent, undeserved invitation to the banquet. Only when we see ourselves as the beggar can we have the eyes to see and empathize with the needy around us.
Likewise, our students are poor and downtrodden as well (regardless of their parents’ income).
How are we passing this imperative aspect of the kingdom on to the next generation? Do we confess our weakness to them? Do we encourage them to see their own brokenness? Are we modeling the importance of inclusion and the invitation of the outcast and neglected? Do the youth under our care witness us going beyond social norms and reaching out to the social exile on a regular basis?
It is so crucial that we not only teach our youth this principle of the kingdom, but also demonstrate it and challenge them to live it out. In a culture that aims to be all-inclusive we, ministers of Christ, need to forego the religious piety of the Pharisees and scribes. Instead, may we demonstrate to our young people that the church and Christianity is a champion of the weak, the outcast, and the foreigner – because we are all that person. May we share this truth with the love of Christ, pouring out grace and mercy to all those around us. Because grace and mercy has been poured out over us.
This parable in Luke speaks to another aspect of the kingdom, and that is the urgency of the invitation. Time is of the essence when it comes to delivering the invitation of the gospel. The gospel is a word of freedom and salvation. We are not responsible for how others respond, but we can make sure that they have something to respond to.
Are we passing on this urgency to our students? Do they know just how good this invitation is for them? We have developed a lethargic attitude within the church when it comes to the message of the Kingdom. “It will happen when it happens.” We must remove this stalemate attitude and buck the status-quo. We need to engage our youth with the passion and time-urgent message of our Father’s love, poured out on the cross. May our teens and our families be filled with desire from the Holy Spirit to share the gospel invitation, not only with their friends and families (people just like them), but also to those who are cast out from society, even Christian society, deemed unworthy of love and attention. What were we before the Father showered us with His love?