Summary: Our Lord issues an invitation to come and live in his kingdom. Many are distracted and refuse the invitation. The invitation is extended to all people.
Matthew 22:1-14 “The Invitation—Refused and Accepted”
Tens of millions of people sat glued to their televisions on April 29, 2011 in order to watch the wedding of the decade. This was the day that Prince William and Kate Middleton were married. Of course some people didn’t need to watch it on television, because they had received one of the 1, 9000 invitations to be a wedding guest. The crowd assembled in Westminster Abby that morning was comprised of the rich, famous, powerful and royal. Can you imagine receiving and invitation to the wedding and turning it down?
The setting of our gospel story today is similar to Kate and William’s wedding. It involves a king, the wedding of his son, invitations refused, revenge, expanded guest list, and inappropriate wedding attire.
HONOR AND SHAME
Jesus hasn’t moved from the steps of the temple (He’s been there for the last three Sunday gospel readings). He’s still confronting the Chief Priests and the religious leaders over authority issues. With each parable, Jesus insults and shames his adversaries to a greater degree. Their anger grows with each word. As we read this parable and seek to apply it to our lives, it is necessary for us to keep this confrontation in the back of our minds.
This is a difficult parable to interpret. Jesus identifies the king in the parable as “The Kingdom of Heaven,” which is Matthew’s euphemism for God. The king in this parable, however, is not only a kind and benevolent God. There’s another side to him. He violently reacts to people who decline his invitation to the wedding banquet. The king kills them all. The king then invites everyone, both good and bad to his wedding banquet. The story ends with the king discovering a guest who is not wearing a wedding garment. The king orders him thrown out into the darkness. The final words are both unsettling and puzzling, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The king’s reaction to the declined wedding invitations seems extreme, and it would be in our society. But, this wedding took place in the Middle East. This is a society that is built around honor and shame. Imagine a wedding similar in importance to Kate and William’s taking place between a Jew and a Palestinian. Saying “No,” to an invitation would be an insult; it would bring shame and force the king to act in order to reclaim his honor. Jesus is telling the Chief Priests and religious leaders that they have insulted and shamed God because of their perverted religious ways and also because they rejected God’s son.
In a way, we are overhearing a conversation that wasn’t intended for us. We are still, challenged however, to understand how we can apply elements of the parable to our lives.
A GRACIOUS GOD
The story begins with a party. The king is celebrating the wedding of his son. This is in a sense a picture of heaven. Heaven is more than pearly gates, golden roads, fluffy cloud front yards and glistening white marble edifices. Heaven is a celebration. We look forward to an eternal celebration of life and grace when we die, but we are also invited to celebrate life and grace, now.