Sunday, 12 October 2008

Invitation

Matthew 22:1 - 14
Jesus began to speak to them in parables once again, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding. He sent his servants to call those who had been invited, but they would not come. Next he sent some more servants. “Tell those who have been invited” he said “that I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding.” But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them. The king was furious. He despatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their town. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready; but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding.” So these servants went out on to the roads and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests. When the king came in to look at the guests he noticed one man who was not wearing a wedding garment, and said to him, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” And the man was silent. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
Not easy, this Gospel, in a cycle of parables where the underdog, the outcast, the unwanted win the prize; here we see such a person being severely punished.
Not even easy for the priests either; I was somewhat amused when one of our priests actually left out the 'difficult ending'. So what to make of it?
The first bit seems awkward, but in theological terms understandable (this is why you have to read the first reading with the Gospel - it's a clue). The Jewish people are the chosen ones - always intended to be at the Wedding Feast, to celebrate the coming of the Kingdom. But they ignore the invitation when it finally comes. So it is re-directed to the passersby. As in earlier parables the invitation is opened up to the 'others';the unclean, the stranger, the gentile. And they accept. Who wouldn't pass up the chance of a free meal?
But there is one that catches the king's eye. One who hasn't made the effort. For as poor and as unworthy as the rest of the guests are, they have tried to spruce themselves up; they have brushed the dust from their clothes, they have found a piece of fabric or a comb for their hair and as unworthy as they are they have done their best. Except this one, who despite the invitation, despite the benefits that the invitation offers, has not mady any effort, at all. And cannot say, when challenged, why he has not.
You have to feel sorry for this person, he/she is almost there. Plucked from obscurity, from nothing and offered a place of salvation, they accept, only to neglect to do their part. And so they suffer.
For we are all unworthy of salvation, it is our human condition that we spend our days not doing what we should do, and yet even the small effort that we make earns us a place at the table.
But to make no effort, to reject the offer made in good faith and generosity - let's be honest most of us would have cancelled the wedding feast - to reject such salvation would be just foolish.
So should we feel bad about this Gospel, sympathise with this foolish person for their ignorance? Or should we hope that we are not that person, secure in our own lives and unaware of what is being offered to us by a loving and generous King. I suppose it is all down to thankfulness again. That our unworth does not matter to God - He has made the invitation and that all we have to do is say 'Yes' with a bit of effort and intention to be a guest that He would be proud of - and we are there - at the party, proud to be chosen and being the best guest we can be.

wordinthehand2008

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