Thursday, October 12, 2017

To Whom Is Jesus Speaking?

On Sunday, we encounter the challenging parable of the wedding banquet. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus describes the kingdom like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. When the time for the banquet came, he sent out his slaves to bring in the invited guests, but they declined. So he sent them out a second time, informing the guests that all was ready and urging them to come in, but they all made excuses, even beating or killing some of the king's servants. So, as we've come to expect in Jesus' parables, the king takes the invitation away from the original guests, burning their city, and urges his slaves to bring in anyone and everyone they can find: "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."

For three parables in a row, Jesus has been speaking to those who questioned and challenged his authority. "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" the religious leaders ask him after he's come into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple of the money changers. Jesus had directly challenged the principal religious institution of his people, and its representatives wanted to know how he presumed to justify these actions. In response to their inquiry, Jesus tells the parable of the two sons--one who says he'll do the father's will but doesn't and one who refuses to help his father but does. He wants these challengers to see that they are judged by their actions and not their words. Then, without interruption, he tells the parable of the wicked tenants, who had been leased a vineyard but refused to give the owner his share of the produce. The owner then destroyed the wicked tenants, who had killed his own son, and gave the vineyard to new tenants. At this point, Matthew lets us know that the religious authorities perceived that Jesus was speaking about them, and they were angry about it, but they didn't want to disappoint the crowd, so they didn't do anything.

Then Jesus gets to this third parable about the wedding banquet. Again, he seems to be speaking to the authorities. He's letting them know that his ministry as God's son involves stripping ownership of God and God's kingdom from those who had always presumed to have it and bestowing it upon new, faithful servants of God. We see that in all three parables. The presumed insiders find themselves on the outside, and those whom they would have excluded have taken their place.

But then there's a twist. With this third parable, Jesus introduces extends the understanding of presumed inclusion becoming one's exclusion to those who had only recently received the benefits of the kingdom. One of the guests who had been brought in when the king sent his servants to welcome anyone and everyone they could find had come into the banquet without a wedding robe. When the king saw him, he was ordered to be bound and thrown out into the outer darkness. In other words, Jesus warned those who had found their fortunes reversed not to presume their place was secure. What important words for God's people to hear!

God welcomes sinners to his table--both those whom society excludes and those in society who exclude others. God allowed misfits to come into his kingdom--both those who live notorious lives of sin and those who judge sinners for living notorious lives. If you're in the banquet because you've always belonged there, scoot over and make room for those who have never been included. If you're in the banquet for the very first time, don't be surprised that those who have presumed to keep you out are also there. Participation in the kingdom of God means full acceptance of God's grace. You must wear a wedding robe. Even though invited in at the last minute, you must be ready for the fullness of the kingdom. You can't accept grace when it's convenient to you. It's all or nothing.

Followers of Jesus have had 2000 years to hear him speak words of radical welcome on our behalf. We must always remember that his welcome extends always to those we would presume to exclude. Otherwise, we're the ones being thrown into the outer darkness.

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