Parable, Extended

Whoever has ears, let them hear:

The Kingdom of God beckons like a splendid real estate listing for a sprawling property still under construction. But, instead of a firm or non-negotiable asking price, its Multiple Listing Service (MLS) description states, “All offers considered.”

From near and far, many people looking for a new place to live decide to visit this extraordinary place. Some are newcomers to the neighborhood, while others are old-timers who have lived here much of their lives but, for one reason or another, have decided that the time now has come to change their residence.  Although a number of those interested in the property are first-timers entering the market, more than a few are quite experienced with making monthly mortgage payments including the PITI: principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.

Approaching the entrance to the building, a sign has been tacked to the front door:  “Open. All are welcome here. Please come in, make yourselves at home, and look around our habitat.”

Inside, it’s a marvel to behold.

Off the entry way referred to by the broker’s brochure as the “Gathering Room” leads a meandering corridor with rooms on the left and to the right. People introduce themselves, hang up their outerwear, and laugh about such a remarkable property on which they have been encouraged to make an offer. 

All offers considered. Really? What is expected and how much is enough?

The Great Room beyond the Gathering Room is filled with extraordinary antiques and lovely old keepsakes. The scent of wax from candles and on heavily polished wooden seating areas permeates the air as clusters of people “ooh” and “aah” over the leaded stained glass windows which filter prisms of light. They bow before vintage figurines or larger statues, murmuring softly and reverently. By the look in their eyes and peaceful demeanor, some people appear to be touched by a ghost or holy spirit amid all the hallowed icons amassed here.

Adjoining this room of antiquities is another room—not quite so old, yet classic and traditional. Here, the people cloistered seem a bit more reserved as they pay homage to the place in a pristine and orderly fashion.  They all know the specific reply to each statement or comment made, as everyone echoes the proper response promptly and with great precision. Though, to some, this seems somewhat stifled and/or silly, the appointed words and common traditions underscore a sense and sensibility resulting in a bond enrapturing quite a few people in the semblance of hearing a holy, holy, holy celestial choir.

Several visitors to the property are held spellbound by these two rooms and find themselves passing back and forth between them. In some ways, both rooms are similar although, quite naturally, certain folks are more beholden to the antiques and heirlooms while others are bound to their more customary rites and rituals.

The formal rooms continue to unfold as we step into the Library. Silently, one of the men seated around one of several large tables looks up as we enter and points to his lips, making the “Shhhhhhhhh!” sign that we are not to speak while here. If the other two rooms we had been through were warmed by the touch of flesh through handshakes, a squeeze to the shoulder, or pat on the back, this room seems fundamentally cold and foreboding. Those seated at the tables here have their eyes glued resolutely to the pages in front of them. Their fingers follow the words on each page with Talmudic scrutiny, parsing laws and prohibitions. Every so often, someone nods in affirmation with the book or glances up at the ceiling as though the Holy One can be found ensconced there. While a few linger here acknowledging whatever truths (evidently) cause the readers to follow in thanksgiving and submission, others are very eager to move on.

Passing a series of Dormitories whose doors are slightly ajar, we peek inside. Time blurs in these bedrooms where we expect peaceful people to be sleeping. Instead, they are silently meditating on some noble truths, softly chanting their mantras, or stretching contemplatively in yoga positions—reaching reflexively toward a higher moral principle, perspective, or purpose.

Next, we approach the grand Fellowship Hall where people seem to enjoy getting together. Music plays as we smile back at those grinning our way; yet something seems amiss—odd and out of sorts. A measured “all for one and one for all” aura appears like icing to a cake—except there is no cake and the sugar is really saccharine. Squinting for a closer look, we notice close cliques and distinct separations among the people present. What’s more, apparently they’re oblivious to anyone outside of their room. Despite the frivolous camaraderie, some people evidence a heavenly joy, as if being together in a general store surrounded with all its goods.

To the left of the Fellowship Hall in an open-concept Family Room, people are listening to a lecture that follows a movie shown here earlier. No rules or regulations are enforced here, just respect for each person’s uniqueness and a hallelujah chorus of diversity, social justice, and emancipation proclamation. The emphasis here is on leaving the room a better place than how you found it.

We cannot help but put hands over our ears for all the hooting and hollering coming from down the hall. In this room, people are shouting and clapping, dancing and singing with words that don’t make any sense (to us).  As quickly as someone stands and utters a string of unknown sounds, another interrupts, prophesying praises and/or condemnations. There is neither rhyme nor reason, and, despite people lying jubilantly helter-skelter across the floor, a sense of mystical satisfaction seems to permeate the activity here. Who can say that, miraculously, they aren’t swept up in some sort of spiritual ecstasy? 

You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, as only a few rooms are left before the backyard door which is wide open.

The next room our group comes across – those who haven’t stayed behind in one of those rooms we’ve already been through – has a bright, neon sign above its portal flashing: “Bonus Room!” But the door to this room is closed and locked. We knock and the door opens from the inside. “You have to pay – spend your money as well as time – in this room,” a voice intones.  “How much?” a member of our group asks. “That depends on what you want,” quickly comes the reply. “You need to sow seeds in order to reap a harvest.”

We are allowed to peek into the room without crossing the threshold. Truth be told, the room looks more like a bank or investment firm, with people standing as best they can – some holding tightly onto canes, the blind being led by guides gripping their hands, and others waiting impatiently as nervous tics ravage their faces – all awaiting their turn at the convenience counter.

“Do you have faith? Do you trust God? Do you believe God’s Word? Will you confess and claim it? Are you willing to put God to the test and prove that you’ve been promised health, wealth, and happiness?” asks the well-dressed proprietor behind the window grills. “Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!” cries each person approaching.

“Then, plant a seed.  Put a deposit, a down payment, on the riches in store for you,” the hawker urges, as people peel off $50, $100, and $500 bills … or more.

Shocked as we are at the nature of these “covenant” transactions, it’s amazing how some of those believers are being blessed in the process of their dealing!

Two rooms remain for us to see in this cathedral of a house.

One, we decide to bypass as it seems too reminiscent of the Family Room. This one, though, is named the “Play Room,” and it’s obvious why: Entertainment is the focus here. There are video games and sound stages with bands blasting contemporary gospel music (variety shows and theatrical performances), with plenty of young, exuberant faces eager to soak it all in. Keurig coffee makers and bagels with cream cheese are set out as snacks here. At the end of their time in this spacious room, people hug and say, “See you next week,” as they leave the room and go merrily on their ways. Yes, they have given a dollar or several during the collection and were reminded to be back a week following.

And, in between? That’s their time, to do with as they please.

The Kitchen, warm and welcoming, is full of joyful volunteers who charitably cook and clean up after themselves to feed those hungry and/or homeless. It’s truly amazing how the pantry here is never empty—each time groceries are removed and divided among the guests, the food multiplies so that even more can be served. A banner strung over the serving area subtly reminds folks that, “Joy shared is doubled. Sorrow shared is halved.”

Strangely, the last room before our exit is quite stark and quiet. People here sit in a circle on simple chairs, without the grandiose décor found elsewhere on our tour. Nobody speaks or acknowledges us as we look in; they continue in a reverie of prayer and contemplation. There is no coffee hour or refreshments here, no glad-handing or promises of prosperity, just a solemn serenity begging for peace.

Tired as we are from previewing this property, we need, at least, to take a quick look around the outside. We are standing in front of an open door that looks out on a back yard stretching as far as the heavens. People continuously coming and going from this expanse of nature are both kind and helpful to those they know or don’t know, as they bend beneath the weight of carrying another’s burdens. Here, they lay down parts, parcels, and packets of their lives for others to take while picking up pieces of wood and kindling to fuel the fires of friendship. Children and animals romp together as sunshine and rain nourish the ground, rendering it friendly and fertile.

“So, what do you think of my parents’ house?” inquires the heir and agent apparent, suddenly standing there among us.  “My family’s house has many rooms. Didn’t I already tell you that?”

We all agree—in principle, at least.

“Can I prepare a place – a room – for you here?” he asks, offering each of us our choice of no-money-down, obligation-free reservations.

It seems too good to be true to us wayfarers, as there’s faith abounding here for everyone to live together harmoniously—despite whatever our differences.

Bidding adieu, we remember the words in the property’s listing:

“All offers considered.” Yes, all offers truly are considered by the householders. This house is called The Gospel, it’s fully furnished, and the ageless rock of its cornerstone is grace.

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