The Invitation: Unconditioned but not Unconditional

I had the great privilege this morning of giving the homily at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Langley. Fr Kevin has become a valued and great friend over my time here. It was an honour to join in their service today.

October 11th, 2020

Isaiah 25:1-9
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

This is one of those parables of Jesus that isn’t easy to understand and certainly less easy to preach about! I said a few weeks ago that we are a season of teaching at the Jesus School and the lessons are getting more difficult. That doesn’t not mean that we can avoid or ignore the bits that we find difficult!

The parables of Jesus are meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable – this certainly does that. They are also meant to show us who God is and who God isn’t. Many read this parable as God playing the role of the king, Jesus the king’s son whose wedding it is, the Jews are the guests that are invited but don’t show up and then get killed for it, and the rounded up, unwashed good and bad at the last moment are us Gentiles. This understanding, while neat and tidy, flattens this story and avoids looking at what it is really about.

The second problem with this flat reading is what does this say about God? Is he a tyrannical king who kicks out the guests who turn down his invitation to be killed in the streets while the city burns? I think not! If we believe that God is our loving Father who ultimately wants what is best for us – then the idea that He is like this king is incorrect.

Where does that leave us?

“The Wedding Feast” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube

We can maybe relate to the kingdom of heaven being is compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for this son and the invited guests did not come. Maybe we have invited family or friends over for a meal or a party and they don’t turn up. Maybe they forgot, or there was a falling out or they got a better offer. Likewise, all people (all means all) are invited into the kingdom of heaven, God’s invitation knows no limit.

In both cases there are consequences. This is what we don’t like. I volunteer as the police chaplain for Thames Valley in Slough. It is a fascinating role! Ultimately the police are dealing with the fallout of the consequences of people’s actions, generally the wrong ones. People resist arrest, go out on the lam, do some crazy things to not get caught, all in a bid to avoid the consequences of their actions.

If you invite someone over and they don’t turn up – there are consequences. You have wasted your time cleaning and cooking; you have spent money on food and drink that might go to waste and likely your feelings will be hurt at the lack of consideration and respect shown. While annoying, these consequences are more inconsideration and lack of respect.

The refusal of the invitation into the kingdom of heaven has far more severe consequences. There is a sense of anger and urgency in Matthew’s story (maybe this is what makes this parable hard to understand). Part of the anger is generated at the beginning of the scene. The King is throwing a party for his Son, it will be glorious and spectacular, a big celebration, people would beg, borrow and steal to get an invitation. But these strange people do not seem to care. What should have been time for a party turns into a war zone. Clearly these people do not care about their future King. This rejection of him is both personal and corporate – they not only reject him but their share in the future nation he represents.

St Gregory the Great explains that in their frenzied pursuit of the is world’s goods, the first set of guests fail ‘to take notice of the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation.’ The murderous response to the king’s slaves shows the depth and nature of human hostility towards God.

The second point of anger comes out of the sense of urgency in that the banquet is ready to start, the food is on the table and the drinks are poured and it is all about to go to waste. The people will never again get invited to a royal wedding again. The invitation has been rejected.

The King then throw open the invitation to all, it is unconditioned, but it is not unconditional. There are consequences. Just as the wedding guests must dress in an appropriate way for the feast, so repentance and faith are needed to enter the kingdom of God. In telling this parable, Jesus is warning his disciples against a naïve underestimation of the power of sin. Some people will experience ‘the outer darkness’ for failing to accept the invitation. Throughout this series of parables in Matthew 21 & 22, Jesus wants his audience that they are in real danger of passing up their chance to share in the kingdom of God. Jesus and the kingdom of God go together and cannot be separated. If you reject the Son, you reject the King. Many of those listening to Jesus, like the invited guests, did not want to believe this.

The invitation to the feast has been a long time coming, in both Psalm 23 and Isaiah 25, a feast is being prepared. Isaiah has a rich feast, of well matured wines and rich food. The Lord will wipe away the tears from faces and take away the disgrace of his people. Is Psalm 23, the table is spread in the presence of mine enemies and the cup runneth over. The time is now, there is urgency in the message.

Will we accept it? Will we put on the right clothes and attend? St Augustine said, ‘the garment that is required is in the heart; not on the body.’ If we are not here to celebrate with the Son, then there is nothing for us. The warning is stark but also real. The truth of this parable, Tom Wright says, ‘God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don’t want to stay at the party. That is the reality. If we don’t have the courage to say do, we are deceiving ourselves, and everyone who listens to us.’

Let us not be deceived. The invitation is there, we are all on the guest list. We need to be dressed and ready. Ready to be changed into the people God made us to be, ready to celebrate and share in the Good News. The banquet is set and ready. Are we?

Author: Sue Lepp

Newly appointed Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches and will start later in January 2021. Time for a new start at the beginning of a new year. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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