Friday, 7 October 2011

Come to the party - but not as you are.

Matthew 22: 1-14 - the parable of the wedding banquet

Jesus’ parable, as ever, paints an exaggerated, almost ridiculous picture.
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who invites people to a party, but they don’t come. No, more than that, they refuse to come & they murder the slaves who have come with the invitation. So the king sends troops to destroy the non-attending, murdering guests and burns down their city. I think they can consider themselves un-invited!
Then the king sends out for more guests, gathering anyone and everyone off the streets. This king goes to enormous trouble to makes sure the feast is full of guests. If you went a sense of how ridiculous all this is, imagine the gates of Buckingham Palace being thrown open to everyone for the Royal Wedding this year and the Queen encouraging everyone from the streets to tuck in to the wonderful food.
But, back at the parable, a man is spotted who is inappropriately dressed – so the king orders the servants to bind the guest hand & foot and throw him out.
This seems terribly harsh on the man – how could he know, when he left the house to go to the market, that his King would order him to be scooped up to fill the seats at his banquet? But presumably everyone there was in much the same boat, and yet the rest have somehow managed to find a wedding robe for the event. So what’s going on in this parable?

Well, first of all I think Jesus is deliberately painting a slightly peculiar picture to help us to understand the almost desperate welcome God offers. Like a king who almost press-gangs guests into his palace, God will go to any lengths to welcome everyone into the kingdom. But what then? How should we react to the surprising invitation to be part of the kingdom? Jesus says we should react with more than just a nod and a thank you. What more does God require?

Just picture the scene. It’s Saturday night and “Strictly come dancing” is about to start. You have on your oldest, comfiest jumper & you’ve kicked your shoes off. The popcorn or peanuts are just within reach on one side of you & your favourite drink is to the other hand. Then the door-bell rings: it’s a neighbour wanting you to join them for a party, right now! If you decide to accept the invitation, you’re not simply going to slop across the road as you are, are you? – you’ll quickly change into something appropriate, because unexpected though the invitation is, and much as you might prefer the evening you’d planned, if you’re going to accept the offer you need to accept it graciously and respond accordingly.

So what response does God require of us, if we are to accept the gracious invitation to be part of the kingdom? Jesus warns that although the invitation is to all, this is not cheap grace, which we can accept almost grudgingly, but requires us to appreciate that we are guests of the king and need to behave like it. God’s grace is for all – but we must change – not our clothes, of course, but our attitudes to others, our love, our purpose.

The invitation this morning is to take this bread and wine. All are invited, none are excluded. But God requires us to come suitably prepared to celebrate – ready to be part of the invitation to others, ready to be changed into people of love and grace, ready to meet the King and know his love.
In Jesus’ name.

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