“You are cordially invited …”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 25:6-9
Philippians 4:4-13
Matthew 22:1-14

The closer we get to the end of this month, the more we are bombarded with various “Tales from the Crypt.” The job of the preacher is to draw attention to tales from the Script. Jesus provided a challenging tale in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus’ kingdom parable this week depicts the kingdom as a wedding banquet. A king prepared everything for his son’s wedding banquet. Then he sent servants to all those who had been invited to tell them to come, but they refused. An invitation from a king is not something that people ordinarily refuse. Such things smack of “command-performance,” rather than a casual “Come by some time.”

Thinking the guests may not have understood the nature of the event, the king sent more servants who described in detail the fattened cattle, sumptuous eats, and joyful, festive atmosphere that awaited them. Nonetheless, they paid no attention and simply continued with everyday business-as- usual. Some of them even seized the servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king chose not to have his authority questioned or his servants treated like that, so he sent his army to deal severely with those murderers.

Then he said to the rest of his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” So the servants gathered all the people they could find, without reference to whether they were considered good people or bad. Soon the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The king was pleased to see everyone having a great time, but then he noticed one fellow who refused to enjoy himself. He had not even accepted the party clothes the king had provided in order to help everyone get into a festive mood. When the king questioned him about this, he chose not to answer a word. The king told the attendants to throw the bum out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Therein we have Jesus’ image of the kingdom: laughter and singing on the inside — weeping and gnashing on the outside. Jesus closed the parable with: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

When the second group of servants came to those who had originally been invited, to explain the lavish preparations, delicious cuisine, and joyful celebration that was waiting, the could-be-guests who did not mistreat them, simply ignored them. The banquet was unimportant; only the fields and businesses that provided for everyday living were important. That form of idolatry is the most popular form to this very day! God’s invitation, God’s will, God Himself — all these are not as important as making a living. One preacher referred to that attitude as, “making a dying.”

In my telling of the story, I have added a common interpretation. Historians tell us that wealthy people in Jesus’ day provided wedding garments to those who could not afford them. I was very young when I first heard this story, and no interpretation was offered. I wound up feeling very sorry for the poor man who (I thought) could not afford a tuxedo, and wound up being thrown out because of it. As a matter of fact, for a long time I had a fixation on this one character in the entire story. As I grew older that fixation helped me realize just how excellent a storyteller Jesus is. I think that, while there are a number of issues that challenge us in this story, that one character is at its heart.

The opening challenge is the most essential. God is caring and gregarious, not aloof and unapproachable. He chooses to enter into a loving relationship with us, and His invitations are wide-open and manifold. He is not discouraged by our vain and stupid refusals to come to Him, and He extends the invitation again and again. You are cordially invited …

That single character, however, comes to prominence, not because he is a victim of poverty, mistreated by some idle-rich king. He is the groomsman whose tux is rented by the king, and given to him scot-free, but he refuses to wear it and wants to participate in his own choice of garments. I don’t think we can escape the connection to the robe of righteousness that Jesus provides to us from the richest resources of His grace, mercy and forgiveness. Robert Farrar Capon, in The Parables of Judgment, comments on refusing God’s invitation because we want nothing to do with a system that operates on grace through faith. We want our sleazy little merit rewarded, and everyone else’s raunchy behavior punished.

A pastor once told me about a phone call he received from a parishioner. She called him because something had just happened that she felt compelled to share with someone. She was glad he was in his office. Someone had called her and asked for an unfamiliar person. She explained that the caller must have dialed the wrong number. At that point, the voice on the other end of the line insisted: “I did not dial the wrong number. You picked up wrong!” Something tells me that caller would not accept Christ’s wedding garment.

Here at the International Center, a large trash bin recently appeared in the chapel. My immediate assumption was that the roof had begun to leak. But then I wondered if our chapel speaker had planned some kind of dramatic representation of our righteousness being like filthy rags, or maybe of Paul considering everything else rubbish that he might gain Christ. My first assumption was correct. Jesus’ parable helps us to look at our reluctance to throw away our own righteousness and rely totally on Christ’s gift. But it also reminds us that as Christ’s servants we are continually being sent out to invite everyone to His banquet.

Our mission is to bring everyone in and help everyone get into the wedding clothes supplied at great cost by Jesus Christ. In my childhood interpretation of the parable, I worried about the poor man who could not afford a wedding garment. Now I know that no human being can afford what Christ paid for the “wedding clothes” He gives to us. We have no innocent life to give. He gave His life for us. We have no sinless blood to shed, no guiltless body to be broken. He gave his for us and gives His to us. “The wedding banquet is ready. . . . Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.”

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