MESSAGE – THE MANY AND THE FEW – Sunday October 11, 2020
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 22:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables…
How often Jesus speaks in parables, which I was raised to think of as earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.
Now that is not completely wrong, because the word itself means to cast one thing alongside another, implying that one would do that for the sake of application or discussion. I was also told that their purpose was to make something that is complicated and beyond our knowing, easier for us to understand.
That part, I am not so sure about, because in several places the gospels themselves imply otherwise. Earlier in Matthew (chapter 13), the disciples ask Jesus, “Why do you speak to the crowds in parables?” And he replies, “Because seeing, they do not see, and though hearing they do not hear.” And Mark 4:34 tells us “he did not speak to them except in parables; but to the disciples he explained everything in private.”
And a number of those parables tell of how we reject God’s invitation at our peril. In fact, Luke’s version of this parable has inspired a song about the excuses given by those who have been invited to the banquet.
That one has inspired a song I can never forget.
The chorus goes like this:
I cannot come to the banquet,
don’t trouble me now.
I have married a wife;
I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments
that cost a pretty sum.
Pray, hold me excused, I cannot come.
Of course one of the reasons that little ditty sticks with me is because one time in vacation bible school I was leading the singing and accidentally sang: I have bought me a wife, I have married a cow. Needless to say that inspired gales of laughter from the kids, but not so much from my wife when she heard about it!
But in spite of that, I do like Luke’s version a little better all in all, because he skips over all the bloodshed and mayhem and has Jesus simply say, after the master sends his servants out to the highways and byways to round up whomever they can, “For I tell you, none of those who got the original invitation will taste my dinner.”
The real point of both versions, and in any number of other parables, remains the same: the privileged and the self-sufficient and those who think they have no need of God or have the inside track will be left on the outside looking in, while God makes a special effort to fill the banquet hall with whoever will come, as Luke’s version puts it, “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Anyone who can sing with heartfelt meaning the old song,
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.
And we can leave to the side all that bloody business about the killing of the king’s messengers and the terrible retribution which comes as a result.
Or can we?
I believe that the habit of God’s heart is grace BUT that is God’s free choice…
I don’t really believe in hell, except perhaps as a temporary holding pen for those too stubborn to see the light. For God has all eternity to persuade them, and I doubt God will ever permanently give up on any of God’s children.
But how long will that take? I think it telling that those famous words from Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” go on to tell us the latch is on the inside, “if anyone opens to me I will come in and dine with them…”
That does, however, leave us with one additional problem in today’s reading. The guest without the wedding robe.
11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then 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.”
The thing is, in the custom of the day, the guest would have been provided with a robe; the question is, why did he choose not to wear it? What was he thinking?
And that helps to explain why the king was so upset. Here’s someone who has been given all that he needs, and shows up unprepared.
We get the summary at the end: 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’
And we are left wondering, why would they not be chosen? Not chosen because they don’t want it badly enough?
Not chosen because God has rejected them? But if God has rejected them, then why would God call them in the first place?
Not chosen, for now? Because they are not ready?
My friends, that’s one I don’t really have answers to, but I trust in God’s grace the number not chosen, will be few, as well.
Eventually, sooner or later, somehow…
I hope and pray that all will see the light.
In the name of God,
our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.