A king gives a wedding banquet for his son. He sends out invitations. People know the event is coming. But when the day arrives and the call goes out to come, the guests refuse. The king tries again, sends out the message: the tables are set, the wine and roast are ready, the dance hall is decked out; come. “But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them and killed them.”
Those invited didn’t pay attention, weren’t interested, brushed it off, and went back to work. Wound up, filled up, backed up by work, including good work, they said “no” to the king and his party. Others lash out, fight back, kill the messengers. This is not an ordinary story, not an ordinary wedding RSVP. Nor is it an ordinary wedding or an ordinary king.
“Go into the main streets; invite everyone you find,” the good and the bad, everyone everywhere. The king first invites a small, select group. When they refuse the call, the invitation goes to all: strangers, foreigners, the poor, the sick, anyone and everyone. All are invited to party. Not for who they are but for because others said “no.” Because the king is so gracious, so inviting, so looking for people who will say “yes.”
You are invited to God’s heavenly party, at the end of time and right now on earth. This is the promise to which Isaiah points: “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines.” God will wipe away tears and disgrace. We rejoice that God is king. (1) It doesn’t matter where you are now or where you come from, what you’ve done or what you haven’t done. You are invited to God’s party. Come fill the house. Celebrate such grace.
If only the parable ended here! But there is more. The king comes to see the guests and sees a man not wearing a wedding robe. “Friend, why are you not properly dressed? Bind him up and throw him out.” The parable is pointedly sharp. We wince watching the king kick out a guest.
How does that fit with the gracious, wide welcome? Why does this guest not wear a wedding robe? By implication everyone else in the banquet hall has put on a proper garment. Good and bad, people from all over who have just come in from the streets and fill the hall have changed their clothes for the party.
Jesus tells us at the end of the parable: “Many are called but few are chosen.” Chosen. Paul often uses this term in his letters. To the Ephesians: “[God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” To the Colossians: “[You are] God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” (2) In these letters, “chosen” is a comfort assuring salvation, describing God’s action.
Matthew uses the word “chosen” as a warning of what one could lose. Matthew describes the goal of our actions cooperating with God. The chosen are those who choose, who strive, who seek the kingdom, and they are relatively few. Earlier in Matthew we hear: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (3)
Listening to God’s invitation, accepting it and showing up and then not just enjoying grace but seeking to grow, seeking to mature, seeking to become like God—this is a narrow gate and a hard road few find. It’s also the best party ever in which we become fully alive and free.
Today’s parable warns us who already in the party, who are the Church, not to be too confident with the status quo. Arrival is not enough. We’re invited to more. Grace isn’t for safe-keeping. Grace is for becoming. Are you too complacent and comfortable? Stagnant and self-assured? Pay attention. Love leads to action. Gratitude propels us forward. Conversion is ongoing.
Here’s another word of caution. We strive forward not because we aren’t already good enough. We strive forward not in order to be loved. God truly loves us as we are, and God loves us too much to let us stay as we are. God calls for us to become more.
How are you striving to become more like the king, to become more holy? What is God’s current invitation for your conversion? How are you seeking to change?
Perhaps you are putting on new clothes of peace or love or gentleness or patience.
Perhaps you are intentionally practicing generosity.
Perhaps you are preparing your heart to welcome strangers.
Perhaps you are seeking to forgive your family.
Perhaps you are choosing a spiritual rhythm, deciding what habits are most important.
Perhaps you are being more playful, remembering you are God’s beloved child.
What are you putting on? Who are you becoming? We brothers wear this habit as a symbol of putting on Christ. What might you wear or what might you hold in a pocket—a cross, a ring, a stone—as a reminder of who you are becoming?
God loves with amazing grace by welcoming all to the party. God also loves with warnings, pointing us onward to more. “Behold what you are:” beloved guests. “May we become what we receive:” the host of heaven.
- Isaiah 25:6-9
- Ephesians 1:4, Colossians 3:12
- Matthew 7:13-14
- We regularly use these words at the presentation of the Bread and Cup here at the Monastery. They come from St. Augustine’s Sermon 57, On the Holy Eucharist, and point to a deep truth: through our participation in the sacraments (particularly baptism and Eucharist), we are transformed into the Body of Christ, given for the world.
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