[#pictureLent] Mar. 30: Do Not Enter

By Tim Smiley
North East District, Florida Annual Conference

First, read Matthew 21:12-20

We all were very excited, especially my three young sons, ages 10, 8 and 4. We were going to Disney World for the first time as a family! The older boys and I were especially excited about the fast and furious rides. Space Mountain! Big Thunder Mountain Railroad! Our youngest, wanting so much to do whatever his older brothers did, was all in. My wife, Candy, really would be “along for the ride.”

Anticipation growing as we entered the Magic Kingdom, we decided to immediately visit “Tomorrowland.” We could see it in the distance, growing closer as we walked toward it. At the entrance, the older boys rushed ahead. But Candy and I stopped, along with our youngest. We were greeted by a sign:

Space Mountain: Riders must be at least 44 inches tall to ride. No child under the age of 7 may ride without an adult and all passengers must ride in their own seat. For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.

He was not tall enough. I remember trying to explain why his brothers could go on the Space Mountain Ride and he could not. The same when we reached Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Yes, we made sure we visited attractions that all of us could ride, but “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and the purgatory of “It’s a Small World” could not make up for his being excluded from those “really special” rides. It’s painful at any age to be excluded.

When Jesus entered the Temple courtyards he observed how people, many so poor, had to exchange – for a fee – the little money they possessed for exclusive Temple money. Then they had to buy an animal – and the Temple officials profited – to offer a sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Some people would never be able to afford it. And those with disease and physical deformities, they would never be allowed into the Temple.

So many people excluded from God’s presence. Jesus’ anger grew. It was as though the priests and Temple officials had posted a sign at the Temple entrance with a long list of restrictions: “Do Not Enter!” The officials in charge of the Temple were robbing countless people of the opportunity to receive God’s mercy and compassion!

Jesus rushed to overturn their money tables and open the pens and cages holding the sheep and pigeons. “Out!” he cried. Then he made a point to welcome the ill, those with disabilities, and the children. “In!” Jesus cried. “Come in to God’s house. Come closer, closer to me, closer to God.” No restrictions. No exclusions. People were so happy, especially the children, that they praised God!

The Temple had become a closed door keeping people away from God. Jesus came with open arms and revealed God’s open heart. Through Jesus, God is welcoming all persons to come closer, change their hearts and lives, and forever experience a free and abundant love. This is Grace. Anyone, anywhere, anytime, who hears Jesus’ invitation to “come close,” will find God has already come close to them.

It’s there in the newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

The same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
So I’m breathing in your grace
Breathing out your praise
Forever!

Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for welcoming us with your open arms, and inviting us to come closer to God and receive God’s love and forgiveness. Amen.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can you remember a time someone made you feel not welcomed or left out? What did that feel like?
  2. Think of someone, a family member or friend who makes you feel welcome and loved.
  3. Just as Jesus welcomes all of us to come closer to God and receive God’s love, Jesus invites us to share God’s love with others, especially when someone feels excluded. Can you think of some ways to share God’s love with someone who feels left out?