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Invitation and Response


“For many are called, but few are chosen.”


God’s grace, God’s invitation is extended to many, to all, good and bad alike. How will we respond? Because I think that if there’s one thing we can take away from this very disturbing parable, it’s that our response matters.


The parable of the wedding banquet is not a feel-good parable. This is not a feel-good moment. Remember where we are. Today’s gospel is set on the Monday after Palm Sunday, four days before Good Friday. We are in the Temple, the same Temple that Jesus had trashed the day before. The Chief Priests, the Elders and the Pharisees are plotting to arrest Jesus and kill him. They confront him in the Temple, questioning his authority in front of the crowds. In response, Jesus tells these religious authorities a series of three stories, each more pointed than the next. First, the parable of the two sons which we talked about two weeks ago; then the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard; and finally the parable we just heard in our gospel reading today.


It's not the first time that Jesus has told this story. In the gospel of Luke, we get a much gentler version of the parable of the wedding banquet, set in Galilee, many months before this encounter. But in this version recorded in the gospel of Matthew, the stakes have been raised in every possible way. If you get a chance later on today, compare the version of this story found in the fourteenth chapter of Luke with the version we just heard. It’s a fascinating exercise. Compared with Luke’s version, what we just heard in Matthew is much darker and much more disturbing. Because in these last days of Jesus’ time on earth, the stakes are high.


One thing to note before we dive in. A parable is not an allegory. We can’t simply say that the human king in the story represents God. Indeed, the human king in this story does give us a glimpse of what God is like, but this same king also represents the worst of humanity and our thirst for revenge. So it’s tricky, isn’t it. Ok, let’s dive in.


“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”


A wedding banquet in biblical times was an act of great generosity and a time of great celebration. Hundreds, if not thousands, will feast for days on the food and drink that has been prepared. As a result, the wedding banquet has long been used in scripture as a symbol of God’s grace and generosity towards us. Here the king is giving us a glimpse of God, of God’s generosity and grace. And God’s greatest act of generosity and grace was the gift of God’s son, Jesus, the Messiah, who came to dwell among us. Earlier in the gospel of Matthew, people ask Jesus why he and his disciples don’t fast like John the Baptist’s disciples. Jesus responds, “the wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” Jesus is the bridegroom, and the wedding banquet is his time on earth with us. The kingdom of heaven has come near. It should be the greatest of celebrations. But it is not.


The king sends his servants to call those who have been invited to the wedding banquet to come, but they would not. Remember that this story is being told to the religious authorities, those in positions of privilege, those who assumed that they would be first on God’s invitation list. And they are indeed invited, they have been invited to receive Jesus as God’s Son, to learn from him, to follow him, to celebrate him – but they would not. They should be at the banquet. God has sent the Messiah, the one they have been waiting for all their lives – but they reject him. They refuse to come. This is a tragic rejection, and the story doesn’t pull any punches in depicting how tragic this rejection is. The moment the king’s invitation is refused, the world of the parable descends into violence. Servants are maltreated and killed, and the king himself is pulled into the downward trajectory. Rejection of the invitation is an act of rebellion, an act of treason, and the king behaves the way that human kings almost always have throughout history: by sending troops, destroying those murderers and burning their city. Tragically, there is a dark realism in this parable that is still playing out this very day, in Israel and Gaza and other parts of the world, as we speak, this very moment.


You might think that in the midst of all the carnage, the wedding banquet would be cancelled. But the banquet will not be cancelled. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ kingdom parables is the surprising persistence of the kingdom of God. As John puts it in the prologue to his gospel, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”


“The kingdom of God may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” The kingdom of God will prevail, God’s grace and generosity will prevail, even if there are those who reject it, even in the midst of the worst of human conflict and violence. The wedding is ready and the invitations still go out.


The king says to his servants, “Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”


The king gets it right the second time, when he invites everyone to the banquet. God’s love extends to all, no one is excluded. Don’t you wish the story ended here? If it did, it would be a celebration of God’s grace and generosity, a celebration of the gift of his Son, a celebration of the expansiveness and inclusivity of God’s invitation to all, a happy illustration of how God’s kingdom will persist and prevail even in the midst of human rejection and violence. The light has come into the world and the darkness will not overcome it. God’s work continues.


But that’s not how the story ends. For one man is not wearing a wedding robe, and the king says to him “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And the man is speechless. He is bound and thrown into the outer darkness.


What to make of this? It’s not really about wedding robes. But what is being said here? Parables by their very nature lend themselves to multiple interpretations.


Perhaps this is a foreshadowing of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Judas after all, is invited to the meal, what we call the last supper, a few days later, and he accepts the invitation. But all is not well, indeed at that supper Jesus identifies Judas as the one will betray him, and Judas departs into the outer darkness.


Simply accepting the invitation to the wedding banquet may be a good start, but it’s not enough. How we respond to the invitation clearly matters.


How will we respond to the invitation?


This story of the wedding banquet reminds me of a line that I get to say a few times every year when I officiate at weddings. As part of the introduction to the celebration of a marriage, the officiant reminds everyone gathered that marriage is a gift of God and a means of God’s grace.


In this story, the invitation to the wedding banquet of the king’s son is a gift of God, something that is to be celebrated and received joyfully. But there is more. In receiving that gift, we are invited to respond by becoming a means of God’s grace in the world, one of the ways in which God’s gracious love is given and made known to a world that is very much in need of that love. We have good news to share. We are not people who are meant to be speechless, like the unfortunate guest found without a wedding robe.


The invitation to the wedding banquet is itself a reminder and an anticipation of another invitation that Jesus will make to his disciples. In the parable, the king says to his servants, “Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”


With his last words on earth, Jesus says to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s an echo of the wedding banquet invitation. Those who have been invited are now those who are to invite others. Those who have received God’s grace are invited to become a means of God’s grace. We are not simply to be passive, speechless wedding guests - we are called to love others as God has loved us.


God is good, God is generous, God is gracious, and God has invited everyone to the banquet.


How will you respond?


There is invitation and there is response.


“For many are called, but few are chosen.”


Amen.


Homily Yr A P28, October 15 2023, Trinity

Readings: Exodus 32.1-14; Ps 106.1-6,19-23; Phil 4.1-9; Matthew 22.1-14

Image by Tembela Bohle


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