Our Story today is a parable that comes from the end of Matthew 21 and the beginning of chapter 22 but here is the context… Jesus has entered Jerusalem (think palm sunday) and he goes straight to the temple to preach to the crowds and there he is confronted by the Pharisees and religious leaders who are trying to corner him, catch him in his words, and hopefully arrest him.
They’ve interrupted his preaching and now Jesus, wise about what the pharisees are up to, is preaching parables directly to them.
So now, let’s listen to this story which is God’s word to us:
What are we to do with this passage?
On one hand there is so much to love about it:
The world as God envisions it,
as God once created it to be, and as God hopes it to be now,
God’s kingdom looks like a wedding feast!
Like an over the top party with delicious fatty food and nothing too lavish or too out of reach.
God’s kingdom looks like a royal wedding
where, at first its as you expect, all the world is watching
and the most powerful affluent friends of the king are invited
only then, in God’s upside down kingdom, the unexpected happens
those who are invited, choose not to come… they prioritize other things
and then the king does the totally unexpected…
the king opens up the invitation to everyone, good or bad it doesn’t matter, everyone is invited.
This is a passage that speaks of the absurd, over the top abundance of God’s grace, and the radically-wide-open invitation to everyone in the whole world, good and bad, rich and poor, the people from center city and the people on the outskirts of town… God wishes that they would all take part in celebrating… God wishes that they would all choose to experience the goodness of life in the kingdom
But on the other hand there is a more complicated, darker side to this parable, a side that seems almost disturbing it isn’t even included by any of the other gospel writers telling of this story…
Along with the huge overflowing amounts of grace and acceptance…
there is also judgement and wrath, there are insiders and outsiders,
there are those who are deemed worthy and those who are not
There is an angry, and punitive, and judgmental king.
When the first invitations to this celebration go out and the people don’t come because they can’t be bothered or are too busy… the king gets mad
When some choose even worse…
responding to this invitation by abusing the messengers, and killing these servants of the king
Then we see a king that is outraged and decides to retaliate choosing burn their cities to the ground and destroy their lives.
And then theres this bit at the end…
After the invitation is opened up to everyone, and all these people come, good and bad,
Then there’s this guy who is there who doesn’t quite belong.
He’s not dressed for the occasion, which is another way of saying
he’s not taking this celebratory feast seriously, he missed that this party had a dress code.
The king asks… Friend where are your wedding clothes?
and the jig is up, he’s been caught… he is speechless…
And it seems like the harsh king returns
He kicks him out… his invite not only gets taken away… He has him bound and thrown out into a suffering place… the outer darkness…
Then we hear the teaching at the root of this parable, this message that comes across as both good news and harsh news:
“Many people are invited,
but few people are chosen.”
This is a complex and complicated parable… What are we to do with it?
How do we reconcile Jesus’ description of a God who is welcoming all people, good and bad with wide open arms while at the same time declaring some unworthy? How do we reconcile Jesus’ description of a God who wants people to experience the best that life has to offer, while at the same time choosing to retaliate and throwing people out into darkness?
What exactly is Jesus trying to say with this parable?
Which God does Jesus want us to meet?
Which Kingdom are we supposed to be living in?
Is God’s kingdom a place of radical grace and open invitation
or is it a place of harsh and critical judgement from the top?
I think it is helpful to remember the context of this parable. That there are two different groups of people who are there listening to Jesus preach this parable.
They are in the temple, and like every sermon at period of Jesus a large crowd has gathered to hear him preach. people are coming in off the streets to hear this renowned preacher offer his refreshing grace filled message, there are people there who are hurting and are broken, there are people there who are hungry for hope, people who are hungry for love, people who are longing to be known, and be welcomed, and heard, people who are desperate for an encounter with the living God.
And then the Pharisees show up. This smaller group of showy and pious leaders who think they have all the answers. Who are so blinded by seeking their own power and authority, their own wealth and welfare that they can no longer find the beautiful abundance in their own life changing faith.
And, it’s as though God invited them to the banquet but they couldn’t be bothered to consider coming. It’s as though God invited them but they actively worked against the goodness of this celebration and plotted against God’s servants…
Its as though God welcomed everyone to this feast but some choose to not take this invitation seriously. Its like God invited them, and they weren’t even willing to change their clothes…
One Parable with two messages
Many People are invited
more than we imagine
But few people are truly chosen
few people actually follow through with this kingdom way of life.
And it becomes clear that one message is for a particular group of people.
The author of this gospel wants us to hear both sides of this story equally and not just one. The author of this gospel doesn’t want to sugar coat it for us… Because the author sees two clear choices… we can continue living in the old ways of the world which have failed us and caused suffering time after time, we can be people of pharasaic faith… or we can choose to accept the invitation, we can choose to live in the new ways of God’s kingdom… which are life giving… which bear fruit, which spread God’s love into the world… we can choose to live life in a way that promotes life, or in a way that causes us to suffer.
As Christians, this is core theology for us. We can say the right words, We can believe the right things, We can even show up together at the right time, but if our life never changed then what is the point? If we aren’t putting are faith into practice and are stuck in the old ways of the world, then are we really living out a kingdom life?
If we are focused on ourselves and we aren’t living out our faith, then aren’t we already choosing a path that moves away from the abundant life God hopes for us? How can we say we have died and risen with Christ, leaving behind our old ways, and living out a new life, without actually living as those this is true?
If we are people of God’s kingdom,
if we are people who have been invited to the feast
then this parable argues that we actually have to have a practice of putting on our kingdom clothes…
This invitation and how we respond
has to matter to our lives every day.
It’s like what the author of Colossians says…
and I’m paraphrasing…
“As God’s chosen people, people who are holy and dearly loved, as people who have received God’s invitation and decided to come… clothe yourselves with the virtues of God’s kingdom compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Put on, everyday, the clothes of the good life in God’s kingdom so that kingdom party doesn’t have to stop
but through our intentional living can go on and on…
This is a complicated parable.
but it doesn’t have to be…
Let’s choose to a life giving way of life.
Let’s live into the ways of the kingdom.
Let’s put on our kingdom clothes every day, and see the love that grows.