Narrative Lectionary Reflection for March 8, 2015
Then [the king] said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Matthew 22:8-9
This is an amazingly rich lesson on which to preach and teach, and there are many ways it can be approached. In short, we have a king who extends a gracious invitation to the wedding banquet of his son, but those who were invited prove unworthy. For various reasons they decline to show up for the party, and their response ranges from downright rude (not enough time and too many commitments) to outright evil (beating and killing the messengers). One might expect the king to simply enjoy the lavish celebration with his inner circle after having destroyed those who did violence to his emissaries, but this is not the nature of the king. Instead, he casts the net wider and invites anyone and everyone. He even provides appropriate attire for the occasion so that no one need feel under-dressed or ill-prepared. Even so, one guest dares to show up in defiance of the dress code and the king’s generous hospitality, and it doesn’t go well for him. The parable ends with the familiar words “For many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14).
On the one hand, it’s a pretty harsh and frightening tale. This is one ruler you do not want to cross! On the other hand, this ruler is lavish with his hospitality and generous with his invitations. He draws the circle wider and wider and pours forth abundance in honoring his son’s marriage. In its first century context, hearers would have been quick to identify with the honor and shame of the culture and the behaviors of the elite. But how do we hear it in our 21st century context?
What strikes me is that none of us are worthy of this invitation. Precious few of us regularly haunt the halls of extreme wealth and unbridled power, regardless of our places of privilege on a global scale. We may never dine with presidents or princes, or sit at a table like the ones portrayed in Downton Abbey, yet still, we are invited to God’s table. And, there truly is no finer table to be found. So the question I’ve been pondering is the right response to this invitation. Is it to in turn make sure that our congregational tables are fully open to all who come? Is it to take God’s table of grace into the world and seek and share the abundance? Do we honor God’s invitation by wearing the right garments–love, mercy, kindness, compassion, joy? Do we dare to give less than our very best?
Surely we won’t be like those who ignored the invitation to go about other mundane daily tasks, will we? And of course, we wouldn’t hurt or kill messengers of the king, right? Avoiding the traditional allegorical approach to this parable and seeking instead to dwell in metaphor and find links to our own context opens the story to fresh tellings and new understanding. We possess a great treasure in the good news of Jesus Christ. We have been invited to dine with God, to
taste and see that the Lord is good, and to be strengthened with a taste of the reign that even now is breaking into our world in surprising ways and unexpected places. So take some risks with this reading this week, dear fellow disciple. Ask hard questions. Emphasize the abundance and our role as stewards of God’s mysteries. Pour the wine. Break the bread. Call God’s people to the table and then send them forth to pour abundant hope, mercy, and divine love into the most drear and dreadful places of this world.
For more on this lesson see these other lectionary reflections on Matthew 22:1-14:
(Photos: torbakhopper, dsopf, and Steve Snodgrass, Creative Commons. Thanks!)