A Radical Invitation?
This week’s text is Matthew 22:1-14. This is the parable of the wedding banquet. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven is like…, we better sit up and pay attention This is a clear indication that an eschatological point is about to be made. The story here concerns a king inviting people to a wedding feast. He sent his slaves to invite folks, but the invitees refused. Then he sent more slaves with details about how great the feast was going to be. But the invitees mocked the slaves, and some invitees seized the slaves and killed them.
The king responded by sending his troops to kill the murderers and destroy their city. The king then sent his slaves to invite everyone they saw. This they did, bringing in the bad with the good. This filled the banquet hall. Then the king noticed that one of the guests did not have on a wedding robe, so this one was bound and cast out into the “outer darkness”. The stern ending to this is that “many are called, but few are chosen” (Verse 14).
What seems likely is that this parable is a thumbnail sketch of God’s relationship with the nation Israel. Time and time again they are invited, yet they keep refusing. They killed His Prophets and rejected His call. The response is disaster and destruction (the exile at the hands of the Babylonians?) Yet, in the end the invitation gets even more inclusive. God’s response to rejection is to get increasingly gracious.
What About that Ending?
So far, so good. We see a radically inclusive God extending His invitation in ever widening circles. This makes sense, especially as it quickly came to be recognized that Jesus’s call was to Gentiles as well as Jews. Then comes the ending where the ill-dressed guest is confronted, then expelled. What are we to make of this harsh conclusion to the story?
It is easy to conclude that this is a story about works. We are invited in, but we did or failed to do something that made us unworthy to stay in God’s kingdom. This sounds reminiscent of James 2 “faith without works is dead.” James 2 is not endorsing the notion that we must work our way into salvation. It is a reminder that just saying we have faith, yet not being changed by that faith is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”; a grace that does not penetrate or alter who we are and what we do in response to the gifts we have been given.
It seems that the lesson here is that God will take us as we are but if we let Him, He will not keep us as we are. The guest in this passage was welcomed in but was wearing the same old clothes he wore before. This is a clear metaphor for someone living a life of “cheap grace”.
We must be careful here though. As an eschatological story we need to keep in mind that this is about what God is doing, not what we have control over. God decides who is invited and who gets to stay. We may look at someone who proclaims their faith, yet does not change their awful ways as not really believing. This is a human response. What we must remember is that as humans we cannot see what is truly in a person’s heart, only God can. For us to try to do what is God’s work is to forget that God is God, and we are not.
We are to welcome all to the community of faith and the table of our Lord. If someone is not wearing the right clothes because they do not really believe, then let God worry about that. We need only be concerned with our own response to God’s gifts of grace upon grace. That is we must concern ourselves with our own belief and our own obedience.
Praise Be to God