This car’s a classic, I say. Nothing to be ashamed of. Classic cars are totally in right now.
I rattle past the valet booth because I’m not a valet guy. No one’s allowed to see the greasy fast food wrappers and sticky half-empty drink cups lttering the floorboards. I find my final resting place at a prime spot right in front of the restaurant.
The sign out front reads, “Heavenly.” I’ve never been here before, but it sounds fancy, if you ask me. I’m a lot of things, but fancy isn’t one of them. Still, I tried to look the part, dressing up in my finest. The buttons strain around my stomach and there’s a hole in the lining of my pocket that lets my keys fall with a clink to the pavement.
So what? This outfit is vintage. Vintage is totally in. I still look good.
In the fading sunlight, the huge establishment glimmers like it’s been gold-plated and encrusted with diamonds.
Maybe this was a bad idea. I gulp and tug at my choking collar with one finger. No way can I afford this place.
Despite the drag of my feet, some unseen force pulls me forward to a small glass door set in the center of the building.
Huh. I scratch my head. This place should have a wide entryway lined with pillars and marble or something, not a plain door. What kind of place is this?
Before I can even think about turning back to my rustbuck--I mean, classic car--a man in a pure white tuxedo swings the door outward.
“It’s about time you got here.” The man smiles, and I can’t explain it, but I smile, too. I’m happy. He’s happy. We’re all happy. That’s weird.
Spices from faraway lands fill my senses as I step inside, and my stomach growls. “Sorry,” I say. “I skipped lunch.”
The man in the white suit--his eyes are so deep and kind, I feel like I’ve known him my entire life--just chuckles and leads me down an impossibly narrow hallway. I’m no architect, but whoever designed this place doesn’t seem to be, either.
“I’m the owner of this restaurant,” my guide explains. “I have many names, but...”
We’ve arrived in a much larger room--I’m guessing this is the lobby. Intricately hand-woven rugs stretch across the floors and paintings line each wall. I skim across each one, my mouth hanging open. “That painting over there . . . Is that a Michelangelo?”
“I have an eye for precious things,” the man answers.
Another man dressed in white waits behind a hostess stand at the far end of this extravagant room. He tips his head in reverence when we approach.
“This is my son.” The man in the suit wraps an arm around the host, a man who could be his clone. “I’m so proud of him.”
“So wonderful to have you join us,” the son says. He’s just being polite, I know, but his words fill me with a strange sense of peace like I’ve never had before. What is this place?
“Oh! We have another guest!” the owner says, and disappears into the narrow hallway.
I’m suddenly aware of my surroundings and very aware of my wimpy bank account, so instead of following him to a table, I ask for a menu and sink down onto a nearby bench. I haven’t decided if I’ll use the menu to pick out my dinner or fan myself because of sticker shock. Either way, I’m prepared.
A moment later, the owner returns with a man and woman. The woman struts in, not ashamed of her glossy red miniskirt and fishnet stockings sprinkled with runs. The man’s suit is rumpled, and he tries to scrub her lipstick from his mouth. I catch the glint of a wedding ring on his finger as he does.
I know I don’t belong here, but these two definitely don’t belong here.
I wait for him to call security to escort the couple out as quickly as they were escorted in.
Instead, the son puts his arms around the pair. “Right this way. We have reserved the best seat in the house for you.”
My jaw drops. What just happened?
Before long, the man in the white suit leads in another guest. This time, the man is filthy and covered in sores. He can barely open his red-rimmed eyes, let alone walk. A needle protrudes from his arm.
“Son, be careful with this one.” The owner pats the man on his protruding shoulder, and he barely responds.
I pretend to study the menu, sure this time they will kick this man to the curb.
“Here, let me carry you,” the son offers. Before the man can even form a word, the son scoops him up into his arms. “We’re so happy you’re here. We’ve reserved the best seat in the house for you.”
My eyes meet the owner’s, desperate for answers.
He just smiles and says, “Don’t be afraid.”
Soon enough, the owner leads in another guest. As soon as I see him, I leap to my feet. Blood soaks his clothes and drips in thick, dark rivers down his arms. Crimson footprints stain the priceless rug as he trudges past me. He white-knuckles a bloodied blade.
“Hey, watch out! He’s got a knife,” I cry, pointing at the man’s hand.
The owner’s son glances my way and nods. To the bloody man, he says, “There’s no need for that anymore, friend.”
The man gives up the knife easily, and I let out a huge sigh.
“Son,” the owner says, “you know what to do.”
“Yes, father,” the son answers. “I know exactly what to do.”
Standing before them is a murderer, a man who deserves nothing less than prison bars. Even two men as gentle and accepting as the owner and his son won’t allow such a person in their beautiful restaurant. I wait for them to pick up a phone and finally put that call into security, but instead the son comes out from behind his counter with outstretched arms. He hugs the man, a move that ruins his white suit with blood.
“This way. We’ve reserved the best seat in the house for you,” the son says, once again.
I can’t take it anymore, so I march up to the owner. “What’s going on here?” I demand.
“Hi, there. When you’re ready, we can show you to your table,” he says. “We’ve saved the best seat for you.”
Anger washes over me in a white-hot wave. “But I am not like the rest of those guys! I don’t murder, or do drugs, or sleep with prostitutes. I’m a good guy.”
The man takes me by the shoulders, and looks me in the eye. “No one is righteous—not even one. [Romans 3:10, NLT].”
And, one by one, every last one of my sins and imperfections find me. I may not be shooting up or dripping in my enemy’s blood, but I am no better than the guests who have been seated before me.
I dip my head. “But I honestly don’t think I can afford this place.”
The owner raises his eyebrows. “Did you even read the menu?”
I glance down at the menu in my hands and read:
Faith . . . . . . . . . Ask
Joy . . . . . . . . . . .Ask
Love . . . . . . . . . Ask
Peace . . . . . . . . .Ask
Forgiveness . . . .Ask
I look up. “What does that mean? ‘Ask’?”
Kindness floods his expression “That’s the price. All you have to do is ask, and you will receive. Simple. My son has already paid for you.”
There’s no hesitation in my heart any longer. I want--and desperately need--what the others who have gone before me received. “So, about my table,” I start.
There’s a twinkle in the owner’s eyes as he leads me into the next room, which is more stunning than the last. “Best one in the house. Follow me . . .”