This week the gospel includes a parable that Jesus tells to help his listeners (and us) understand the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God. The kingdom of God is a way of talking about the time when all of creation is transformed and healed and there is peace and justice everywhere, when everything is just as God intends. When all the promises of God are finally fulfilled.
Jesus uses the image of a wedding banquet given by the king to celebrate his son’s marriage. For some reason, the invited guests refuse to come. They dismiss the invitation, go to their daily tasks, and some even kill the messengers sent to fetch them. The king is enraged and sends troops to destroy them. In their place, the king sends his slaves to invite everyone from the streets. When the banquet hall is filled with everyone they found, “both good and bad” the story says, the king notices and confronts a man not wearing a wedding robe. When the man is silent, he is thrown out into the “utter darkness.”
There is a lot going on in this parable. The images float through my mind. A lavish and wonderful celebration. Confusing response from the guests originally invited. Apathy to the invitation. Murder of the messenger slaves. The king’s rage. Troops marching off to destroy. Invitations to everyone in the streets. A crowded wedding banquet hall filled with all sorts of people. The one man not dressed appropriately. The king’s confrontation. Throwing the man out in to utter darkness.
What sticks in your mind from this story? For me, it is always the parts I struggle with that stay in my mind. Trying to make sense of the confusing parts and the things that puzzle us is important. Living in ways that are guided by our understanding of God will lead us to examine, question and explore what we do not like or do not understand. And this parable has plenty for me to struggle with, since the king’s behavior towards both the refusing guests and the man without a wedding robe do not fit with my understanding of how God acts toward us. I wonder what Jesus is trying to teach his listeners (and me) in the stark contrasts where gracious invitations turn to violent destruction of the city or welcoming everyone from the streets to the celebration turns to casting out one inappropriately dressed guest. These questions matter (and I have some thoughts on them that help me understand what the parable is saying), but I realize that they can distract me from the heart of the parable.
In my struggle with questions and uncertainty and things I try to make sense of, I sometimes miss the richness and beauty at the heart of the parable. I move right past the amazing notion that the king invites everyone found in the streets to the wedding banquet. I don’t invest myself as much in thinking about what that means for my life and the world. I forget to explore and rest in that marvelous, grace-filled image of welcome and inclusion that is the heart of the gospel’s message.
Over and over, through all of scripture, we hear we hear the consistent theme of God’s welcome, God’s love, God’s forgiveness. God fully knows who we are. Though we are broken, struggling, and imperfect, God heals and transforms and invites us into the banquet. That is the heart of the gospel. As we look at the questions that scripture or life raises for us, we can also look at and rest in the healing, peace and hope that we find, as well.