The Narrative Lectionary points us to Matthew 22 to an enigmatic parable that preachers this week will certainly wrestle with. Before I get to that, I did not post on the text last week (audio and notes are HERE). If you read my last post you know we suffered a tragedy in our family that, frankly, still has us stunned. Thank you for the replies to the post and the personal communications of encouragement and sympathy. It is so appreciated.
The four parables given to us during this season of lent each have a surprise ending, and this one is a bit perplexing. I’m sure the mystery of it circulates around wedding traditions that aren’t a part of Western culture. A King prepares a wedding banquet for his son and lets everyone who’s invited know that everything is ready. Everyone who has had a part in planning a wedding (or other socially important event) knows the tension of the question: what if no one comes? Well, that’s exactly what happens! They don’t even give an excuse, they ‘refuse’. The King attempts to entice them by giving them the menu and perhaps sending a message to the wise that he has gone to a lot of trouble and the invited should come.
Again, the king is ignored and some of the invited guests simply go about their daily business as if the wedding means nothing to them. But other invited guests have had enough and they not only mistreat the servants who brought the King’s invitation, they kill them! This story just took a turn for the worse, and it’s not over. The King in fury ‘sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.’ It would have been a lot easier to just go to the wedding banquet. It didn’t sound half bad.
More servants are sent out to gather everyone they can to bring into the banquet. The doors are open! The good are brought in, and also the bad. The wedding hall was full. The King should be happy. The banquet he prepared is being enjoyed by a large number of people and all seems well. Except. One guy didn’t have appropriate garments, so he was tied up and tossed out … presumably into hell (where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth). This story just can’t get to a happy ending. But it does get to a surprising ending!
For many are invited, but few are chosen.
I would have liked for there to be one of those discourses where the disciples ask the meaning of the parable. But no. The next thing we see is that the Pharisees are upset and are looking to trap Jesus in order, eventually, to kill him.
So we could presume that the Pharisees are the target of this parable. As the Jewish people were promised a Messiah, and given a Messiah, but they were not interested in Jesus for the most part. So Jesus opened the doors and let anyone who would come in. This is not a new plan or a Plan B, just a carrying out of what he knew would happen. But not even all the Gentiles are going to be saved, there was that one guy in the green velvet tux (St. Patrick’s day is over. Stay with me.)
As with each of these parables we are left uncomfortable. And we are left with a question or two. But we are also left with a final statement, which I believe is the handle by which we must take this story. Many are invited, few are chosen. But even that statement is a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? What’s the difference between being invited and chosen – especially to attend a wedding banquet! In the end we recognize that all humans are invited to come to the Kingdom, but not all will be chosen. Why not? Well, some will refuse, some will ignore, some will attack, and some will not get the memo on the dress code. Do you think that one who is not dressed appropriately is someone who is only pretending to be a part of the wedding party, but has ulterior motives?
If we consider ourselves invited, how can we know we are chosen? Is that the question with which we are left? Or is it more along the lines of this: Why aren’t we out gathering the good and bad to bring into the banquet? The King has sent his servants out to gather. He is the one who decides who stays and who goes. Are we sometimes not gathering because we have decided who we want in the banquet and who we do not? The King has gone to a great deal of effort to provide a wonderful feast and blessing. It seems that many in this parable are indifferent to the King’s preparations. Reminds me much of the world in which we live.
The last parable about the Workers in the Vineyard had a warm fuzzy feel when we realize the unfairness of God’s grace and how even the ones who worked the least were rewarded. I don’t think anyone’s going to read this parable and go home with that same feeling. Or will we?
You’re invited to join in discussion and sharing of resources about the weekly text at my Facebook group, Narrative Lectionarians. Thanks for reading.