The One Where The Parable is Scary

Matthew 22:1-14   8 March 2015 Lent 3

A distraught mother took to Facebook to lament that no one came to her son’s 6th birthday party. None of little Glenn’s kindergarten classmates responded to the invitation. She said, “He was so devastated when he realized no one was coming to his birthday party…he tried to hide the fact that he was crying by pinching the bridge of his nose. He keeps asking ‘when will my friends get here?’”

When will my friends get here?

Much like our scripture reading today, the people who were invited to the party did not show up. And the distraught mother, just like the distraught king, took to the streets of Facebook to lament. And strangers showed up. And the day was saved. This is where this modern day story and the scripture part ways.

Today’s scripture is troubling, isn’t it? Especially if we shake out this parable and assign roles: the king = God; the son = Jesus; the servants = prophets; the feast is the feast to come. The burning of the city is a sign of end times. But then, who is the guy who gets thrown out? I mean, who is that guy? And what about the few who are chosen? Certainly we fit there, right? Certainly our invitation didn’t get lost in the mail. Certainly we didn’t give an excuse and not show up, right?

Let’s back up a bit here and dig into where this story is set. Back in 1st century life, to receive an invitation from the king – The King – was a Big Deal. It was an invitation you simply would not refuse or neglect or shrug at. It had implications for the well being of your family, your business, your life. Your loyalty to the king was not questioned. So to not show up, to give an excuse, and then to kill the messengers who show up to remind you that the king is expecting you? Well, the people hearing this story would have been shocked at its telling. You just didn’t do that. It wasn’t an option.

So, lets imagine that God is the king in this story. Imagine God’s desire for you and me to come to the feast, to the banquet he’s prepared. God relentlessly comes after us, inviting us, showing up in our lives, with the banquet feast laid out. Come, say’s God. It’s all ready. Come.

Which is awesome, right? But then, if the king represents God in this parable, then this same God goes after the ones who killed his servants and burns down the city. Then this same God invites everyone else on the streets to come to the banquet whose celebratory theme must now dampened as they leave the smoking ruins of their homes. I imagine it to be a somewhat subdued and somber celebration as the guests wonder when the King is going to snap again. Shh. Just keep your head down. Don’t make eye contact. Eat your peas.

And the king snaps. Does he snap at you? Oh whew – it’s the schmuck next to you. The king spots someone not wearing the right clothing, which maybe got burned up in the fire. It’s silent as the man is singled out and kicked to the curb. Then, just in case we wouldn’t have anything to talk about, the king leaves these words hanging in the air: many are invited, few are chosen.

Is this your view of God? Certainly, God laments our lack of faithfulness and seeks us out again and again. Certainly, God invites everyone in – not just those who seem deserving. But this image of God then gives way to a vengeful, violent, angry God who is way too capricious for anyone’s comfort. This version of God has me worried: when will God turn on me? When will I put on the wrong clothes and be punished for it?

What if, instead, the power this king wields is seen as something that you and I can wield? What if this story points to you and I as the ones who have the power to invite others into this feast, this celebration of life from death, this life of being constantly transformed? This life of hope in the midst of despair. What if you and I are the king? How does that change your hearing of this parable?

“Disciples invite and welcome through loving acceptance.” It’s one of our guiding principles we try to live by here at River of Hope. It reflects a desire to show love by inviting people not just to come to worship with you, but inviting them into relationship with you. When you take the chance of inviting someone to come to worship with you, you open yourself up to the risk of a relationship: a new friendship with someone. Just as our practice of meeting new people during worship opens up this same door. And along with that relationship comes the risk of brokenness and rejection. Along with a new friendship comes the potential for someone to say no, to shut the door, to not show up, to shrug you off, to say they just don’t have the time, to ignore your friend request on Facebook.

What if we are the king in this story – then who is it we are kicking out for not wearing the right clothing? Who is it we are kicking out because they don’t believe the same way we do? Who is it we are kicking out of our lives because we just don’t like the look of them?

So then, what if, just what if, instead of Jesus being the son of the king – lets just say Jesus is the guy who isn’t following the dress code. I mean that seems just like something Jesus would do, right? And we, the ones who know the code, show him the door. I mean, it fits doesn’t it? After all, Jesus is the kind of guy to talk to the people he wasn’t supposed to talk to; to heal those who should not have been touched; to feed the hungry masses who were just the kind of riff raff you’d find out on the street. It seems like typical behavior for Jesus to show up to a fancy banquet without the right clothing. After all, Jesus is the one who is betrayed by his friends, who is stripped of his clothing, who weeps and cries out to God from the outer darkness, the cross.

Jesus tells this parable as a way for us to see what part we play in bringing about God’s kingdom. Are we the ones out inviting people, willing to risk rejection and at the same time risk inviting Jesus himself? We are to be the ones readying for the banquet, filling the banquet hall with whoever we can find, trusting that they will be fed, knowing that our lives are forever changed because of this feast we yearn for, this feast we are preparing for.

It’s for us to ask, just like 6 year old Glenn asked, “When will our friends get here?” Not to wait, but to seek and to ask and to invite. It’s for us to go and find them, be open to new people, to fling wide the doors not only of a gathering space for a worshiping community but the doors to our very lives. There’s no dress code, folks. We’ve all put on Christ. And that changes you from the inside out.