Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
~ Matthew 22:1-14
I love a good wedding story, but this one takes the cake. Every now and then I will read the lectionary selection for Sunday and think about how I would be preaching this if I were still serving in a church setting.
For me, the first thing about today's lectionary selection that comes to the forefront is the "many are called, but few are chosen."
We see this everywhere. On bumper stickers, decorated wood pieces that hang on walls, and is a common sentence that churches often like to share. So much of the time people don't care to read the "rest of the story," as Paul Harvey for years would say on the radio.
This is a piece of the gospel that contains more ups and downs than a Shonda Rhimes drama. It involves a wedding, a king, slaves that go out and try to even bribe people to come to a wedding, a bad wedding outfit, and of course, death.
Often when I read this, I wonder what each of the characters must have been thinking, or going through, for them to react this way. So often our take is only from our perspective, but I wonder what was going on from the other side.
I can see those who work, and have family responsibilities that prevent them from attending. It's about the priorities that they are consumed by.
And then there are the slaves. Being told what to do by the king, only to find themselves enslaved by another, beaten and even dying.
There are just every day people who get invited to attend off the street. And then there is the unfortunate soul who basically shows up wearing flip-flops at the ball and is sent out into the darkness, only to be tormented for eternity.
What about the bride and the groom? Where is the reaction from them? Why the importance of the wedding? Why is there no one who is interested in attending? Years ago when Prince Charles of England married a somewhat common, Diana, the entire world could not see enough! All networks, newspapers and water fountain conversations at work spoke of the event and the reactions of the people.
But let's just talk weddings for a moment. I have officiated at the wedding of nearly fifty couples now in my twenty plus years of ministry. I have seen some real interesting moments, from mother-in-laws who ruled the wedding, to flower girls that insisted they would throw flowers how THEY wanted, and best men who were so nervous that I took the couple's wedding bands and held them myself so they would not be lost or dropped on the floor.
Nerves, laughing, one singing, and a few that nearly fainted, all have stood before as friends and families have been present.
We forget that marriage is a sacred ceremony that is about covenant. Photographers, planners and magazines have made them out to be public displays, but, like all weddings, it is to be about community.
I am sure that the king has really struggled. He has killed his most prized livestock and has lavishly offered much, but still the king waits and no one comes.
While I have always been able to remember the verse that many are called and few are chosen, it is harder to remember that this comes at the end of a very trying time. A time, some would say, is our time.
God has sent Jesus to us and some have simply not been able to find a way to understand why it is that God has given so much. While we share with others that they can come "just as they are," like the king in the story, it is not necessarily God doing the throwing out into darkness, it is often us. When we see the person for who the person actually is, sometimes it is difficult remain in community.
I guess when it is all said and done, I'm always thankful to know that we all have received an invitation to be part of the wedding. While our lives can be filled with so many things to keep us from attending, our ability to love one another remains key to the creation of community and the Kingdom of God.
Hoping that you have a great day staying in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2017
Dear Lord, thank You for inviting me each day to be part of this journey with You. For my ability to respond, "yes," and for You to see me for who I am and still love me. Help me to see and treat others just as You do me. Amen.
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.