By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 22:1-14
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 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.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Perhaps the most brutal of Jesus’ parables, this story of a king hosting a wedding celebration for his heir concludes a series of parables on the kingdom of heaven. It’s popular today to talk about inclusion and Jesus’ welcome of all, and this parable sets forth quite clearly the indiscriminate inclusion of God through the image of invitation. The king invites many to the feast, and when they reject the offer, the king sends his servants to invite anyone and everyone. Many are invited!
But few are chosen. This series of parables offers stern corrective to those who think the kingdom of God is inclusive without condition. The invitation certainly is for all: “The servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good.” Yet our response matters; the kingdom is for those who receive the goodness of God’s blessing. Those who murder the king’s servants — servants who bear nothing but the good news of the wedding banquet — have their city burned to the ground in response. Even more shockingly, someone already present in the wedding hall is thrown out, with his hands and feet bound, no less, simply for not caring enough about the wedding to dress for the occasion.
Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven is told in the context of some people who think they are God’s favored, welcomed by God no matter how they treat others, and other people who think God would never even extend them an invitation. It serves as both good news and a warning: to all who long for the salvation of God’s coming kingdom, the invitation has been extended to you. But for those who only abuse the things and people God has made, your place in the wedding hall is not assured. Many are invited, but few are chosen. Therefore, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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