19th Sunday after Pentecost
Lakeridge Lutheran Church
Most of the time, when we contemplate the words of scripture, especially the words of Jesus, the message seems clear, the good news is directly declared, the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation is right there in the text, clear as day.
And sometimes, the text leaves us conflicted, questioning, wondering.
That has been my experience with this morning’s text.
Is this really what the kingdom of heaven can be compared to? A King throws a wedding banquet that no one wants to come to. And the king has slaves? The king gets enraged? Really? The king exacts vengeance and burns their city to the ground? And then someone isn’t wearing the right clothes and they get tied up and thrown into the outer darkness?
For many are called, but few are chosen?
Is this the compassionate God? The gentle God? The forgiving God? The just God?
What is your message for us in this text, oh God?
Maybe if we could be there, in that moment, in that cultural and political context we would understand more.
There are a few things we can gather from the Gospels that give us some insight into what is happening. This parable is the LAST among a series of parables that seem directed at the hypocritical religious leaders and the series culminates in their angry response and plotting to kill him.
These parables began after the triumphal entry when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey and the masses of people shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then Jesus goes to the temple and throws the moneylenders and vendors out of the temple saying, “It is written My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves”.
It seems Jesus is intentionally antagonizing the religious leaders, the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees. After kicking all those people out of the temple, He leaves the the city and comes back to the temple the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. And he is teaching people, challenging their existing understanding of their faith, inviting them to consider a new way.
And the religious leaders are threatened by him. They challenge him and his interpretation of scripture. They try to trap him into saying something blasphemous. When they can’t trick him into that they try to get him to speak out against the roman government, knowing the Romans would quickly punish him… but He didn’t fall for their traps. Over and over again, he danced with them in the conversation, pointing out the absurdity of their claims, and the insanity of their fears.
For many are called, but few are chosen.
And we arrive at the moment of this morning’s parable. He’s back at the temple teaching and for some reason, this parable seems especially targeted at the religious leaders.
Look, the kingdom of heaven is like this. A ruler hosts a lavish banquet celebration for their child. They send out their servants and assistants to call and remind the invited guests that the dinner is about to begin.
“I have the most amazing food prepared for you. I have expensive wine and fabulous desserts prepared. This is going to be the event of the year. Don’t miss it!”
And those that are called ignore the people reminding them. Some even attack the people sent to remind them.
Finally the ruler says, ENOUGH! They want to reject my invitation, fine! I will turn instead to those whom never get invited to feasts like this. Go to the poor, go to the laborers, go to the homeless, go to the streets.
For I have chosen them to receive this beautiful feast.
The religious leaders were furious because they knew Jesus was shaming them and rebuking them for they were thoroughly invested in controlling access to God. They believed they knew who God had called to be included in the family of God. They were certain who was in and who was out, and they fiercely defended those boundaries.
And Jesus is telling them that God is doing something new. God is actually doing what God wants to do, in spite of, without regard to what they think is right, to who they think are the right people, the deserving people.
For many are called, but few are chosen.
I wonder if God is saying here something like this… Everyone is called to this feast of love. Everyone is invited. And there are those among you who have been rejected, who have been led to believe your invitation to the table of God’s love isn’t valid, that you aren’t as worthy as someone who has more money, as someone who has a lighter shade of skin, as worthy as someone who isn’t heterosexual or cisgender, as worthy as someone who has a body that isn’t disabled…. well all of you are the ones I am telling that not only are you invited, but you are chosen. All people are my children, but you… you are my beloved.
You are chosen just as you are, for everything you are and for everything you aren’t. You are chosen for all your beauty and for all in you that isn’t yet beautiful.
Since we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I was curious what Martin Luther had to say about this feast. In his treatise on “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ” He writes:
“See to it that here you exercise and strengthen your faith, so that when you are
sorrowful or when your sins press you and you go to the sacrament or hear mass, you do so with a hearty desire for this sacrament and for what it signifies. Then do not
doubt that you have what the sacrament signifies, that is, be certain that Christ
and all his saints are coming to you with all their virtues, sufferings, and mercies,
to live, work, suffer, and die with you, and that they desire to be wholly yours,
having all things in common with you. If you will exercise and strengthen this faith,
then you will experience what a rich, joyous, and bountiful wedding feast your God
has prepared for you upon the altar. Then you will understand what the great feast
of King Ahasuerus signifies [Esther 1:5]; and you will see what that wedding feast
is for which God slew his oxen and fat calves, as it is written in the gospel [Matt.
22:2–4]. Then your heart will become truly free and confident, strong and courageous against all enemies [Ps. 23:5]. For who will fear any calamity if he is sure that Christ and all his saints are with him and have all things, evil or good, in common
One of the questions I ask when reading scripture is where am I in this text? For this gospel reading I asked myself… Am I the one that was invited to feast, who was called to come as an honored guest, and then ignored the invitation? Am I one of the servants sent to call people to the feast, knowing I would risk rejection, oppression, or even violence? Am I one of the people being unkind and violent? Am I one of the people that is finally chosen, finally included?
I think I have been in all of these roles at points in my life. I think we all have.
Yesterday, I had the chance to speak with a mom who was struggling accepting her lesbian daughter. She had been told things about sexuality that made her afraid and judgmental, but this was her baby whom she loved. I told her how moved I was that she was willing to wrestle with this tension, this uncertainty because some parents would just reject their child and try to convince their child they are unloved by God. But she was fighting for love, trying to come to understand how God might be including her and her daughter at the table of Love.
If you are sitting here this morning wondering where you are in this Gospel story, or to be more real, where you are, what role you’re playing now in your life, I want you to know I believe there is a message of redemption here for you today.
Whomever you are, whatever you’ve done, whatever you have believed about yourself, about others, or about God, You are chosen.
If you can hear and understand that the feast offered at this table, the mercy of God, the unending love of God, the experience of being chosen-especially when you don’t deserve it, that all of this is for you. If you can accept this invitation and trust that God is for you, you will become truly free, confident, strong, and courageous.
And for me, that is what the kingdom of heaven looks like. It looks like people who are clear they are chosen and beloved by God, people who are beautiful, confident, strong, and courageous, people who are sharing this abundant feast with others, helping to heal and liberate the world around us. This is the kingdom, the kin-dom, the family of God.
Welcome to the family my friends.
Jenny Holladay says
Amen, my kin.