October 15, 2017

Series: October 2017

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Matthew 22:1-14

1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 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.

11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.” THIS IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. THANKS BE TO GOD. AMEN


          When I was younger I was one who preferred to stay noncommittal.  Plans among frineds would begin to be hatched for the weekend, and I would hang back, offering a “maybe,” holding out for the elusive better offer.  So, I can relate to the Matthew story in which Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a party being thrown, and a number of the invitees electing to keep their options open.  The invitation is nice enough, a feast has been prepared, it’s a special occasion—a wedding banquet—yet more than simply sitting on the fence, some on the guest list actually kill those who deliver the invitation!  For the record, I never did that.  The king in the parable reigns down a pretty fearsome punishment of his own, and proceeds to keep on inviting neighbor after neighbor until anyone who can be found, good and bad alike, are gathered in to a feast fit for royalty.

          As with any story, especially parables, there are many valid interpretations here.  Let’s begin with what this story is not.  It is not, I would argue, a judgment story meant to scare you into some rote acceptance of Jesus as your savior, as some hollow profession of faith (or, really, fear) so that you will fall in line with the church.  Remember, at the time of this story there was nothing much to fall in line with.  What would become the church was still a small movement, a rebel movement, a minority.  They, like us, did their best to make sense of the reality around them.  A parable about a king’s invitation being brutally rejected helped them make sense of why their beloved Jesus had been so rejected by his own people, and thus why they had been rejected as well.  The king’s retribution, while harsh to us, probably aptly expressed their feelings of anger and revenge at what felt like betrayal and persecution.

          This parable is also not a theological justification for the state of things today.  In other words, we shouldn’t use it to say that those who have accumulated material success are clearly God’s select, those who have been invited to the party and who accepted the invitation.  While I hope this is obvious, I say it because there is a large movement in our religion called the “prosperity gospel,” which asserts that if you want it, and you claim it in the name of Jesus you will have it.  That tends to make certain pastors richer, many of their followers poorer, and is both theologically and morally bankrupt.  The life of faith is fulfilling.  It may, in its own way, lead to some measure of success, but let us be clear that the biblical witness is overwhelmingly of Jesus on the side of the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized.  I would argue the movement of the Spirit since then has followed suit. 

          Enough of what the story is not about.  Watch what the king in the story does when his initial round of invitations is rejected.  The king just moves on.  There are times in life when your energy is no longer well spent on those who would reject it, and you.  I’m not advocating flippantly writing people off or carrying grudges – you can maintain an open heart – I am simply encouraging you to realize it is okay to be discerning about where and to whom you pour yourself, lest you simply pour yourself down a drain.  I’ll share an example from the church world, because it’s where I move, but surely you can translate into your own life.  I have a friend, a real star in the denomination (if there is such a thing as a “star” in this line of work, but he’s very talented and successful).  About a year or so into his call a few wise people in the congregation came to him and said, “You know right now you have a 100% approval rating.  The question is, ‘How will you respond when a few begin to oppose you, which is bound to happen at some point?’”

          You see that pastor’s predecessor had been well loved, but along the way had ruffled a few feathers, just a few.  In turn, he became obsessed with the few, first trying to accommodate their every concern, then, when that didn’t work, sadly, trying to oppose them or sideline them at every turn.  In the process, he neglected the rest of the work and the bulk of the congregation.  Lost was the vision and direction.  All the energy had been poured into a pit that was never going to be filled. 

My guess is we can all relate to pouring ourselves out, in good faith even if not in perfect form, only for it never to be received, or never to be enough. Just as Jesus elsewhere advises brushing the dust of some towns off your feet, here in this parable Jesus seems to be saying, “If you won’t accept my invitation, this gift, I’ll share it with someone who will.”  It’s really freeing.

          In the parable, the king just keeps inviting.  It’s incredibly good news.  The servants go out into the streets and gather everyone they could find.  Scripture says, “both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Mt. 22:10).  There’s your proof this is not a scary judgment story:  good and bad are invited in.  It’s not about your perfection, as Richard Rohr loves to say.  It’s about your participation.  Yes, the text says, “few are chosen,” but, in part, it’s because few choose. 

          I know not everyone has the wherewithal to choose well in life.  Let us not be moralistic.  Let us instead focus on the constant, ever extending, ever widening circle of invitation.  It begs the question of what we do with the invitations we are given in this life?  Mary Oliver’s lovely poem “The Summer Day” tells of kneeling in the grass, observing the grasshopper with divine attentiveness, blessed by the sacredness of it all, and concludes:

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

What do we do with the invitations of this life? Do we take them, or are we too busy?  Do we hold out for the proverbial better offer or do we recognize that the most important invitation is often the one right in front of us? 

Anthony Breznican, senior writer at Entertainment Weekly tells a story about Mr. Rogers, the public television children’s star (if there is such a thing as a star in that field), Mr. Rogers who is also, incidentally, a Presbyterian minister.  Like many, when Breznican was young, he enjoyed watching Mr. Rogers.  He had supposedly grown out of him, until in college when he was having a particularly tough time.  Then, walking through the dorm one day, he heard familiar music, “Won’t you be…my neighbor.”  Playing on the tv in an empty common room was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  There was Mr. Rogers asking him through the screen, what he did with his difficult feelings.  Breznican says as silly as it sounds, he stood mesmerized, mesmerized and comforted, “like a cool hand on a hot head.”[1]

          Three days later, Breznican was waiting for an elevator when, miraculously, the doors opened, and who should be there but Mr. Rogers himself.  At first Breznican didn’t say anything, but eventually he couldn’t keep quiet, “Mr Rogers…I don’t mean to bother you.  But I wanted to say thanks.” 

          Though Breznican immediately felt embarrassed, Mr. Rogers just smiled and said, “Did you grow up as one of my neighbors?” 

          The two talked, with Breznican telling him that just the other day “when he’d really needed it, he’d rediscovered the magic of the world Rogers created.”  When the elevator doors opened and the ride ended, he realized the conversation hadn’t, so he motioned Breznican to a seat near a window and, undoing his scarf, asked “Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you?”  Breznican told him that his grandfather had died and he was one of the few good things he had and without him he felt adrift.  Mr. Rogers then told Breznican about his own grandfather, remembering fondly a boat his grandfather had bought him as a kid and how they’d worked on it together.  Though long gone, the boat and grandfather, Mr. Rogers still carried with him the gift of his grandfather’s work ethic.  “You’ll never stop missing the people you love,” he explained, but you still carry the gift.

          Breznican apologized for presumably making Mr. Rogers late for an appointment, and that’s when Mr. Rogers simply said, “Sometimes you’re right where you need to be.”[2] 

The kingdom of heaven is right here. You’ve been invited to the party of a life time.  Do you want to go?  Amen.


 [2] Ibid.