The Invitation

Matthew 22: 1-14

Another Sunday, another parable.  That’s how Jesus rolls.  There’s a whole lot of stories going on here.  Twenty three in the Gospel of St Matthew, to be exact.  And once again, we hear Jesus telling people what the kingdom of heaven is like.  With a counterpoint of outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth just to make it fun.

There is something of an element of harshness and judgment in Matthew.  He liked to write things like ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ and did so six times.  Gospel writer Mark never used the phrase and Luke only used it once.  Matthew uses this edge in his phrasing to displace our complacency and in fact there is a great deal of complacency in today’s parable.  There is complacency toward the kingdom of heaven that a whole lot of people find themselves missing out. Not because they haven’t qualified for it, not because they haven’t earned it, not because they’ve been given the gift of grace but because they chose to separate themselves from God.

That’s the narrative arc going on here.  God has, is, and continues to invite us into the kingdom of heaven.  As we’ve talked many times, God is not a tyrant dictator that forces us into anything.  God extends the gifts of faith, forgiveness, love, and eternal life to spend with God in heaven.  Probably some other gifts too but that’s a good enough list for now.  All those gifts are extended to us, freely and without coercion.  What we do with them is up to us. What we do with the invitation is up to us.

The king has sent out an invitation to a wedding banquet and apparently everyone has ignored his invitation, not even returning the RSVP.  Have you ever ‘forgotten’ to respond to an RSVP in a timely manner? Not having received any RSVP replies the king sends out his slaves to extend a personal invitation.  We can be like the group of people invited by the king the second time and just ignore it.  Again. Go on with our lives as if nothing was going on.  Again. Hit delete on the email without reading it.  Again. Ignore the phone call from the number you don’t recognize. Again.  Just pass by the invitation as if it never happened.  Again.  If you do that with God’s invitation, guess what happens?

God invites you again.  A third time. Only this time God ups the ante a bit.  Not with threats but my being very clear about how much God wants you to grab onto the invitation into the kingdom of heaven.  Everything is ready.  The burgers are on the grill and the beer’s in the cooler God seems to be saying. Or portobello mushrooms and iced lattes.  Or grilled cheese and iced tea, sweet tea if you’re in the south.  God’s going to extend the invitation in whatever way you might respond to it.

We can be like the first group who ignored the invitation, and too often are.  We ignore the invitation as we go back to our workplace as if nothing has happened.  We could be really bad and be like the other group who killed the people bringing the invitation.  Please don’t be that group.  In this story I’m probably the slave bringing the invitation to the kingdom of heaven so I’d rather you weren’t part of the group that mistreated and killed the slaves for bringing the invitation.  You don’t want the invitation, then whatever, just don’t kill me for bringing it.  K?  K!

At this point the complacency over ignoring an invitation to the kingdom of heaven has gone too far.  It’s time to shake things up for the reader and unsettle that complacency a little bit.  Jesus does this, and Matthew reports this, by killing all those who ignored their invitation into the kingdom.  Given what we know about God’s willingness to forgive and our faith that we’re saved by grace I think the story line isn’t that God kills those who ignore the invitation.  It is, however, an indication of what’s at stake when ignore the kingdom of heaven that God is inviting us into.

That God is inviting ALL of us into.  When the original guest list doesn’t show up, which is a statement of far too much reality in our own time, what does God do?  He tells is people, in v9 “9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  They gathered all whom they found, both good and bad.  That’s really good news for us.  The invitation to the kingdom of heaven is open and your personal status isn’t what gets you in.  It’s the grace of God given in Christ Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross.  But that’s a story for a couple of weeks from now.

Still, in spite of all that, there’s still one who misses out.  One guest manages to not show up without a wedding robe.  You could feel sorry for the poor guy there at the end that gets thrown into the outer darkness. He makes me think of a little kids that drops his ice cream cone.  It’s just kind of sad and disappointing but in most cases dropping the ice cream could have been prevented, though we’ve all likely done it.  In some ways I do feel sorry for him because getting thrown into the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth is nobody’s idea of a picnic.  And while I may feel sorry for him there is an important point to be made.  Everyone else managed to get themselves ready for the kingdom of heaven on short notice.  He chose not to be ready and missed out.

In the end making the choice to not be ready left him in the dark.  This parable is a commentary on our faith and what we do with our faith.  Make no mistake, we’re invited to the kingdom of heaven, good or bad.  The only question is what we do so that we’d recognize the invitation.  Will we choose to work on strengthening our faith or will we choose to, as the first group did and, “make light of it and go away, one to his farm, another to his business?”

Lent is a good time to wrestle with this question as we carry around our nails and give thought to the faith practices of prayer, Bible reading and study, devotional reading, worship, generosity, outreach,  and sabbath.  Those are the practices that help us to not miss out on God’s invitation to the kingdom of heaven.  An invitation you do NOT want to miss.

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