If you didn't go to church last week, you're in for a treat: almost the exact same gospel lesson all over again. Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of God, which he likens to a wedding banquet that a king gave for his son. First, he sent his slaves out to bring in the invited guests, but they refused. A second time, he sent his slaves to bring in the invited guests, but this time they made excuses and even beat and killed the slaves. Finally, he sent his troops to go and destroy them, instead inviting others to the feast. Sound familiar? Maybe your preacher will preach the exact same sermon just to see whether you were listening.
Of course, they aren't the same. The're very similar, but there are important differences. Most notably, the parable takes an even more surprising turn at the end. Here's what happens. After bringing in all these unexpected guests--"both good and bad," Jesus tells us--the king walks in to find that one of his guests has come in without wearing a wedding robe. "How did you get in here without a wedding robe?" the king asks. Then, he orders the un-robed guest to be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. What's the explanation for this peculiar behavior--maybe even a complete change of heart by the banquet-hosting king? "Many are called, but few are chosen."
Say what, Jesus?
Today, as I ponder which of the other lessons I might preach on this Sunday, I feel like this last bit is a clarification of last week's gospel, in which Jesus asserted to the Pharisees that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." Well, same story this week--unexpected guests are invited to the feast--but just because everyone is invited doesn't mean that you can take the invitation for granted. Likewise, just because the kingdom has been taken away from others and given to you doesn't mean you're any better than they are.
In staff meeting today, we wrestled with this text for a long time. The invitation is given broadly ("Many are called"), but we still need to respond to the invitation by participating in the kingdom ("but few are chosen"). That's a problem for the church. We preach a gospel of "God loves you no matter what," but the danger is mishearing that as "do whatever you want since God loves you anyway." No, we are called to be citizens of the kingdom. We are called to participate in the banquet. We can't take that invitation for granted even though it is given out freely. Instead, we must prepare ourselves for kingdom life--the life of the few who are chosen among the many who are called.