Parables of the Kingdom and supposed to shake things up. They are intended to make one think about things, about assumptions that are made by the listener, about the nature of the King who both brings in this promised Kingdom and that same King who rules over it.
If that’s the goal, then this parable exceeds all expectations.
It is a head scratcher on so many levels, but let me see if I can give you an illustration that makes its meaning a bit clearer.
On an almost weekly basis I get an invitation like this. It is from a financial planner who has noted my age and is offering me a “banquet” meal at a local restaurant, which will be followed by a presentation on estate planning. It’s all “free”.. except I will have to sit through the presentation.
I know of folks who go to every one of these they get just for the free meal. They have no interest at all in what is actually offered there.
But, it’s an invitation, so what do you do with it?
Keep that in mind as we look at the parable, for that’s the question this parable explores. What does one do with an invitation?
Which is it? Does the King offer a blanket invitation to everyone, really want to gather in all, or is there some “catch” to who is welcome at the banquet of the Kingdom?
What kind of a King is this, who upon being rebuffed in his first invitations sacks and burns his own city and puts to death his own subjects?
What kind of subjects are these, we wonder, who upon receiving a great and gracious invitation from their King, blow it off in preference for their own mundane tasks of going to their farm or opening their shops?
We pour and puzzle over this parable, and mostly what we want to figure out is that last line. “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
That’s the line that jumps out at us, the memorable line even when we don’t remember the rest of the parable that precedes us.
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” We repeat as a kind of mantra for all kinds of circumstances.
We choose up teams on the playground as kids, “I’ll take _____” You can have _____. Well you know, many are called but few are chosen.
We hope for a promotion at work, get our paperwork in order, interview with high expectations and the list comes out and your name is not on it. “Oh well, many are called but few are chosen.” We say in consolation to ourselves.
At other times may quote it to try to make someone else feel better who has been passed over in life.
“Well, you know, many are called but few are chosen.”
And we do firmly understand that is the way it is in this world. People do get passed over.
People do get the short end of the stick, sometimes by no fault of their own.
We also recognize that in this world there are times where we see it as legitimate that judgment is passed. We even take a little glee in watching someone “get their come-uppance” when they have flagrantly flaunted or violated the rules at work, in society, or in their social circles.
Who isn’t thinking, “It’s about time…” about Harvey Weinstein?
Who isn’t hoping for someone to come through the seats of power, (wherever they may be,) to sweep through and do a little sorting, cast into outer darkness those who embarrass, those who have held on to power and abused it, those who flaunt their own self-interest?
We fully expect and hope in this world that someone will eventually call to task some people who simply ought not be there.
But when it comes to the Kingdom of God, is that how it works too? Is that what we want?
Does God call us all to the banquet feast and then wander the tables looking over the crowd to say, “Buddy, how did you get in here?”
Do people really get consigned to the outer darkness, and if so, by what criteria?
That’s really the burning question, because if we could answer that reliably, we’d know what we should do, and what we should refrain from doing.
Is it the clothing one wears? Is that what attracts the attention?
Or, is it what one refuses to put on even when it is provided?
Those are the questions that swirl around this parable. The question might well be “many are called, but WHO is chosen?” For, that’s what provokes and prods at us. Who ends up getting chosen to be consigned to outer darkness? Could that happen to me?
I think the answer to that is “yes”, but not for the reason you might think.
It is not the case that the King (God) is vindictive, looking for folks to consign to the outer darkness on a whim.
It’s not that there is any “unknown” thing that was done in this parable that raised the King’s ire and caused the rebuke.
No, what appears to be the case is the King saw behavior that was consistent with what had frustrated him in the first place, which is to say, a person having no regard for his son or the event, and that gets us back to this…. the original invitation.
Read that opening line of the parable again. “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
What follows then, is the King’s reaction to how his son is being treated, neglected, and disregarded.
The first round of invitations is simply rejected. They refuse to come to the banquet, which in this culture dishonors the son.
The second round of invitations brings home the insistence of the King’s offer. “Hey, look the party’s ready, the food’s prepared, come!
“But they made light of it and went away….” This is sending the message that the son just isn’t important enough to disturb the daily routine!
More than that, the invitation to the banquet was such an inconvenience in the daily routine that they “killed the messenger” so to speak to keep from coming.
I think we intuitively know how this works.
If I invite you to a party and you can’t come, that’s not really a big deal to me. Sure, folks get busy, they have conflicts, things do come up…. I’d understand.
But if I invited to you my child’s party and you don’t show up, or refused to attend, or made light of the party so that my child (despite having high expectations) ends up being disappointed? Now I’ve got something to be mad about!
I think that is what is operative in this parable, as you read it through, the King is vindicating his son. He is a “big deal” in the eyes of the King, and paying no heed raises the King’s anger.
That’s the reason the city gets burned. It is because of disregard for the son’s party, and all those who have labored to bring it about. Slaves who have been killed rather than guests be inconvenienced with their attendance.
The King is insistent that this party is going to come off, one way or another. If not with the original guest list, then with whoever can be brought in, and it’s all being done for the sake of the son.
And those who end up attending, they are receiving something they could never have imagined would ever be theirs.
And what is it that rekindles the king’s anger at the end of the parable when the room is full of guests? It is seeing someone who could not be bothered to get dressed up for it.
Whether the garment was provided, or expected, doesn’t really matter. The point is the King can see right away that this person has no regard for his child, or the reason for the banquet, and that is what elicits the response.
So, is God looking for people to throw out? No.
Does God notice when someone acts cavalierly toward Jesus? You Bet!
Does that give you pause to think, to consider your own actions? It’s supposed to!
Welcome to the power of this parable. It’s supposed to make you think about how you, on a daily basis, respond to the invitation of God to come into the Kingdom of Heaven.
But it is not intended to drive you out of fear.
It’s not supposed to make you afraid, wonder if you’ll be cast out.
Rather, it is intended to help you drill down and ask a deeper question… the “Many are called, but few are chosen” question. It’s meant to make you ask about the invitation!
What on earth would make me choose to ignore God’s invitation? Ignore his Son, Jesus?
What on earth would make me choose to refuse an invitation from the King to the Heavenly Banquet?
If there is condemnation in this parable, It is not where we at first think it is!
It’s not the case that the King is prowling the banquet looking for offenders.
It’s that the King can spot a mile away someone who has chosen something other than honoring his son!
This realization flip-flops the parable on us.
We do not need to fear a prowling king, we need to fear our own indifference.
That wedding garment symbolizes involvement, and the question the parable wants us to ask is “what am I choosing?”
What am I choosing with my actions toward God’s gracious invitation to come to him?
What am I choosing to put in front of the response to gather at the Banquet? Is it my job? My possessions? My busy schedule?
Do I find the invitation to God’s Kingdom, freely offered, so inconvenient that I’ll do things to try to “kill” it? Withhold a pledge because I don’t’ agree with something my church does? Work to undermine a decision by leadership? Sow seeds of discontent within the community with my words? Actions?
Many are called, you know.
All were called in this story.
Some were called repeatedly.
But then choices were made about the invitation. Rather than responding out of gratitude, attending, and honoring the King and his Son with your attention and presence, another choice was made.
Some, even when they found themselves in the midst of the banquet, did not put on the garment of honor. He preferred to not be inconvenienced, not to conform, not to fully participate, and it is that choice that ends up catching the attention of the king and causing the consignment to the darkness.
The parable is meant to make us think, what do we do with our invitations?