Summary: God’s wonderful banquet is free for all.
I wonder if you’ve ever bought a new car? Different things appeal to different people, don’t they. Some people are concerned with the technical details about the engine, others are keen to buy from a local dealer, others want to stick with a manufacturer they’ve bought from before, others are only interested in the colour.
Well, imagine you need to replace your car. You’ve sorted out your budget, and you’ve decided what kind of car you want. You’re wandering around the dealer’s yard, beginning to look through the windows of various different cars, looking for the best value for money. After a little while, someone approaches you. It turns out that he’s the managing director of the company. He has a broad grin on his face and looking very happy to see you.
"Come with me," he invites you. "There’s something I want you to see round the back.” You follow him round to the service area at the back. There in the centre of the yard is a gleaming, brand new Jaguar. You gasp in amazement and delight.
Then the managing director holds out the Jaguar keys, dangling them in front of your face. "It’s yours, all yours! It’s free, gratis and for nothing. Enjoy it," he says and puts the keys into your hand.
What do you think you would do? Imagine this is one of those quizzes in a magazine.
(a) Jump into the car and roar off down the road before he has a chance to change his mind.
(b) Regard him with deep suspicion and edge away, certain he’s either completely mad or has some dark ulterior motive.
(c) Suddenly realise where your neighbour got his brand new Rolls-Royce and tell that used car salesman that you don’t see why you should be fobbed off with a Jaguar when the bloke down the road has a Roller.
And if you do take the car, will you actually enjoy it, or will you spend your time worrying about the cost of the insurance and whether you can afford to run the car?
We human beings are so unused to receiving anything worthwhile for free, that most of us would probably regard an offer such as the one I’ve just described with the utmost suspicion. We know that almost all supposedly "free" offers either aren’t worth having or aren’t free at all. "You get what you pay for," is something many of us have deeply engrained within us.
When the king in today’s Gospel reading threw a sumptuous wedding banquet for his son, none of the invited guests turned up. Perhaps they couldn’t believe such a lavish feast was really going to be free. Perhaps they were too anxious about what the hidden cost would be, or what strings were attached. Perhaps they were worried what they might be asked to do in exchange for this free meal?
Not only did those guests refuse to attend the banquet, but they were so deeply suspicious of the offer that they beat and murdered the servants whose only crime was to carry the invitation. And so the banquet was thrown open to all and sundry: the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick.
God invites everyone into his Kingdom: not just religious people, not just good people, but everyone. There is no weighing up of good deeds and bad deeds to decide who is fit to enter the kingdom. Entry is determined solely by whether or not you accept the invitation. That is, by whether or not you believe in the king who throws the banquet, whether or not you believe you’re in for a good time. Nobody earns the right to enter the kingdom, entry isn’t based on merit.