They got distracted and we get distracted by wrong attitudes and misdirected priorities. We can be too earthbound in our thinking and in our living. We get too attached to the physical and the mundane. "You that have no money, come, buy and eat!" the Lord said, but he also said, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?"
Some people in Babylon were making a good living and didn't want to leave to go take a chance in the Promised Land.2 Perhaps others were discouraged by their lack of a living; that was surely the case of those left behind in Judah. The invitation to life is for those who have and for those who don't have. But both groups can be distracted: those who have by what they have and those who don't have by what they wish they had. The "haves" are distracted by the illusion that their needs can be met by their stuff; the "have nots" are distracted by the illusion that more stuff would meet their needs. Such living denies the reality of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ, because such living refuses to live in light of the fact that Jesus died and rose so that we might become children of God and citizens of heaven.
It's all about perspective and mindset. John Stott told the story of a young man who found a five-dollar bill on the street and who "from that time on never lifted his eyes when walking. In the course of years he accumulated 29,516 buttons, 54,172 pins, 12 cents, a bent back and a miserly disposition." But think what he lost. He couldn't see the radiance of the sunlight, and sheen of the stars, the smile on the face of his friends, or the blossoms of springtime, for his eyes were in the gutter. There are too many Christians like that. We have important duties on earth, but we must never allow them to preoccupy us in such a way that we forget who we are or where we are going.3
But we do let things get in the way. Material things are not necessarily bad things; indeed, many of them are absolutely necessary-see how long you'll make it without food, water, shelter, clothing, and medical care. But if we are always looking down and never looking up we'll miss the best things, the things that God really intends for us. It can happen to anybody.
But it doesn't have to happen to anybody because this invitation to life is for everybody. After reminding the Jews in exile of his covenant with David, a covenant that had been popularly interpreted as a covenant exclusively with Israel, the Lord told them that he had made David "a witness to the peoples," and that the Jews would "call nations that you do not know, and nations that you do not know shall run to you, because of the LORD your God." (Isaiah 55:4-5). The invitation to life was for Jews and Gentiles; the way we would say that is to say that it is for absolutely everybody. That's good news but even such good news can be a stumbling block for some. That's because we sometimes want to limit the guest list to those who are like us or to those who we think deserve to be invited. We forget that God made and loves all people whether they are like us or not and that if the invitation was limited to the deserving we wouldn't be invited, either. But to live real life, to live life in God's presence, is to live with God's blessings and with God's people. Paul Hanson has said, the most precious gift of all, the gift of life in God's presence, is free. All that can exclude you is your insisting that there are places you would rather be. Why would anyone ever decide thus? Because you want to determine the menu. You want to be in control of the company you keep.4