Recently I heard a friend speak and one of the things he talked about was the idea of invitation. I don’t think I ever spent any time pondering that very common phenomenon. Of course, I have been invited to countless things over my lifetime. And I have invited multiple people for various things I have done. There are very standard invitations and, of course, special ones.
Standard invitations would be to things like birthday parties, weddings, etc. Some invitations to these events are elaborate. I have seen wedding invitations that seem quite expensive to make. They are multi-colored, have ribbons and other fancy twists. At the other end of the spectrum are invitations that I get via email. There is nothing special about these in any way. They are very functional. They simply invite me to something, give me the time and place and that’s it.
Generally, I see invitations as a good deal. To receive an invitation is to know that I am wanted at some event. Some invitations are business related, but maybe these should not even be called invitations. If there is a committee meeting, I hardly call it an invitation when I get the notice the meeting is some particular day. That is more like an information piece or a notice. Invitations are more like requests. And generally, I see these favorably.
At the base level, an invitation is a request for my presence and/or my participation. The wedding invitation, for example, is a request that I be present at a very special day for a couple. The invitation essentially asks that I not only be present, but that I participate in wishing the couple a good day and a good life. Some wedding invitations even hope that I and the other guests would be in prayer with the couple for their day and their good life together. Most of the time I am touched to be invited and happy to participate with them.
An invitation does indeed communicate that I am wanted. Invitations are always a request. They are at the other end from a commandment. To an invitation I can always say no. My free will is honored by an invitation. Clearly, a commandment or an order cannot be disobeyed without consequences. I can say no to a commandment, but I’ll probably be in trouble. If I responded positively to an invitation, I am committing myself out of my free will. I am saying, “I want” to come.
In addition to being wanted an invitation implicitly says in some way I am valued---or valuable. An invitation says I am wanted and, somehow, I am valuable enough to be present. There is a range of why I might be valuable. I might be invited because of some particular kind of knowledge I have that would add value. I might be invited because of some of the soft skills I have. Soft skills are things like caring, supporting, encouraging, etc. I know I bring these to a situation and suspect that is why I am invited to certain things.
As I think about invitation, I realize this is what’s behind the call to discipleship that Jesus offered various people he approached. The gospels narrate some of these invitations to discipleship. One familiar story tells about Jesus approaching some guys who were fishing. “Follow me,” is the usual form of invitation from Jesus. Most of what we just said about invitations in general applies to these specific calls to discipleship.
When Jesus calls a person, he is telling that person he or she is wanted. In every case I can think of, Jesus calls the person, not the skill. Jesus did not call people who were fishing because he needed some fishers. His invitation is always personal---to the person. We are wanted. His call is a request---a request for friendship. I am confident that Jesus thinks we can add value to the spiritual movement. In some way we are going to be valuable. This is the place we might be expected to do something---to offer the value that we promise.
As with all invitations, the invitation from Jesus to enter into relationship can be met with our “no.” We are free to decline the invitation. We can choose to ignore it. In effect we can say, “forget it.” The invitation to spiritual relationship always honors our free will. I appreciate this because it means we can never be coerced into being spiritually active.
This is important to me because it frees me up to see that it is my choice to be in relationship with God. And because I am freely engaged with God, when I say that I want to do what God wants me to do, I know I am acting out of my own freedom. I am not a slave being ordered to do things I don’t want to do. My relationship with God may not be a relationship of equals, but it is a mutual relationship.
Both God and I are in the relationship out of our respective freedom. I am in it because I said, “yes” to an invitation. Thank God!