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.
Over and over again, the Scriptures exhort the people to celebrate. We are to praise the Lord, give thanks, and worship God’s love, grace and presence in our lives. We may not be able to dance our way through life, but we can live each day grateful for God’s gifts and celebrating the gift of life.
When the king’s invitation to the celebration is refused by some, the king expands the invitation to celebrate to everyone both good and bad. No one needs to be excluded from a life of gratitude and celebration. Even when shamed, God still invites. Paul writes in his letter to Romans, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
One thing is frightening in this parable. It is not the wrath of the king, but the power of his subjects—humans. The king cannot force anyone to his wedding banquet. Humankind has the power to refuse.
I read this parable and I reflect on the many times that I refuse God’s invitations to celebrate and live my life in gratitude. Perhaps you might be a little like me.
• There are those times when my world is coming apart. I am overwhelmed with worry and concern. God whispers in my ear, “Relax, I’ve got you covered.” The Lord invites me to let go of my anxiety and to replace it with peace, joy and celebration. So often I refuse the invitation.
• Occasionally, I get caught up in time. There doesn’t seem to be enough of it. I feel driven by time. I’m always in a rush. I’m destination orientated—not caring about the journey but just getting to the next point as quickly as possible. God comes, at these hectic moments, and invites me to slow down and celebrate life. The Lord reminds me that even Jesus separated himself from the crowd and went away to rest and to pray. Usually I’m moving too fast and can’t put on the brakes hard enough to accept his invitation.