Matthew 22: 1-14
15 October 2017
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Amen (Ps 14:19)
We have another challenging Gospel lesson this morning. Again, it’s parable of judgment, the most strongly worded of the three that Jesus told when the Temple officials tried to trap him. What are we to make of it? How can it help us live more fully in God’s Kingdom? First let’s keep a couple of things in mind. For one thing, this parable uses the image of a wedding banquet or feast. According to priest and author Robert Farrar Capon, the banquet image is a metaphor for God’s Kingdom. In his view we can read this parable as inviting us into God’s kingdom. He also notes that judgment is pronounced only in light of whether we accept or decline God’s invitation. In other words, we can read the parable as defining both the nature of salvation and the judgment pronounced on the rejection of that salvation. Let’s focus on the parable. Jesus begins: “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son”. In the world of the parable that king really wants to celebrate a happy occasion with his friends. So, he sends out invitations to the feast. But notice, those he invited won’t come. It’s not that they can’t. They just won’t. Even when asked a second time they either make light of the invitation or hurt those sent out with the invitation. Now, presumably those first invited were the ones with the most, the ones who would have come dressed well and brought good gifts. But they reject the king’s offer. What happened? They were destroyed! Jesus points out that judgment falls on those who don’t trust enough to accept God’s gift of salvation. The parable makes clear that we needn’t think that salvation comes by our own good works or that God’s good nature will let us off when we have our own plans for our time. Only God’s grace and our faith leads to the fullness of life God offers. The parable continues. The king sends out slaves to gather everyone they find, “both good and bad”, and bring them to the wedding feast. And now we come to the really challenging part of this passage, There’s that one man not wearing a wedding garment. And the King has him bound and thrown out. Yikes. I have to wonder how all those other guests, gathered up from the street, got their fine wedding clothes in the first place? Capon suggests that maybe the king handed out good clothes at the door just to make the party more fun. What a picture that presents! In any event, there’s no explanation about how the guy got in and, perhaps, it’s not all that important. What is important is to notice what happens when the King asks the guy how he got in. Did you notice? The man is speechless. He doesn’t say one word to the king, not one. The point, I think, is all about being in relationship with God. God doesn’t care if you are one of the finest people. God doesn’t care if you bring the best gifts ever. Just so as you’re willing to be in relationship with God. The point is that hell only happens for those who turn away from God, refusing to accept the gift of relationship as it is offered. Thing is, God’s grace is the sole basis for salvation. Our track record, thank heavens, has nothing to do with it. The only way to get thrown out of God’s banquet is to believe you are not part of it. Then there’s the punch line. You remember. The parable ends. “For many are called, but few are chosen”. Have you ever found it hard to accept an unexpected, perhaps unearned, gift? Haven’t we all been taught it’s better to give than to receive? Further, I suspect we’re all happier when we think we deserve what we get. And here’s Jesus telling us that God offers the best gift ever, the chance to live always in God’s presence, to everybody, deserving or not. Furthermore, in the light of this parable, we are the ones who get to choose whether we take the gift or not. If hell is the opposite of life in God’s Kingdom we have to actively choose to go there. Really, it takes my breath away. We don’t have to be perfect to deserve God’s love and care. We don’t have to buy our way into God’s good graces. All we have to do is reach out and let God restore us to life. To me, that’s very good news indeed. I don’t know about you but I surely am glad that so many people, in so many places and churches, went out of their way to share the gift of God’s love with me. God, working through all those folks, has made all the difference in my life. Now I’m left wanting to make sure that love keeps being passed along one way or another. How better to do that than by giving of myself and my resources to pay it forward? How is it for you? Amen.