Our Invitation to Grace
"For many are called, but few are chosen." These words troubled me in the process of planning a worship service that would complement this parable from Matthew's gospel. For several days, the phrase echoed in my mind. Honestly, the whole parable is unsettling, but the final sentence produces the kind of chill that lingers. I want to understand the "why?" of it all. Why did those first invited to the wedding banquet ignore and reject it? Why did others decide to come and enjoy the feast? And still more disturbing, why did that one guy show up without a robe, and why was the fallout so severe?
Just hours before I had the benefit of hearing Pastor Nate's sermon on this parable, I lay in bed Sunday morning, not quite ready to give up my warm blankets. Of course, when one doesn't want to get out of bed, one browses Facebook on one's phone. I scrolled past an article: "Catholic Newlyweds Choose Meal for Poor Children Over a Wedding Banquet." Seriously? What are the odds of seeing that article this morning?
Aside from the fact that radical acts of selflessness and generosity like this might be the kind of thing Pastor Nate was talking about when he encouraged us to "go all in with grace," one sentence stood out to me in the article. The groom explained, "We decided to feed those who really need it, because our family members have what they need" [emphasis mine]. During the morning, my thoughts returned to the phrase, "those who really need it." Much like the final sentence of Matthew's parable had stayed with me, this phrase persisted, but with a sense of hope.
For those who have plenty to eat and a full social calendar, one invitation among many can be neglected. But for those perpetually hungry, turning down an abundant feast is absurd. The poor don't take lightly an opportunity to join in on something extravagant.
We sang in our worship service the classic Lenten hymn, Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy. One verse reads, "Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream; all that he requires of sinners is to turn and trust in him." In an alternate version of this hymn, we sing, "all the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him." Pastor Nate offered an interpretation that the guest arriving at the wedding banquet without proper attire is like us showing up to the Christian life on our own terms. Saying “yes” to God’s invitation while holding on to our old ways of living is not a viable option.
How have our own “fond dreams” of self-sufficiency or our efforts to maintain autonomy over our lives kept us from, as Pastor Nate said, "jumping off the diving board and into the pool" of God’s abundance? In practicality, perhaps we treat the daily call to kingdom-living – to follow Jesus – as one pleasant invitation among many in our lives. An invitation we could disregard or accept on our own terms given our whim, without significant consequence. On the other hand, when we are aware of our deepest needs and poverty of soul, our continuous RSVP to the kingdom of God becomes as essential as the food that sustains us; a feast that means life itself. We can’t risk not jumping in. And I’ll confess that I’m one of those who really need it. How about you?
Grace & Peace,
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
22 Once 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. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those 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, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”