A reflection for Trinity Eighteen
Offered for Sunday 11th October 2020
October 11th 2020
As we have moved through Matthews Gospel
over last few months I've said on a number of occasions
we need to put ourselves on the unpopular side
of Jesus' parables for a greater understanding
and deeper challenge;
and the parable from Matthew 22 is a classic example.
However, like most things Jesus said
it is far more complex than at first glance.
Back in the mists of time;
before the Dog Collar one of my fellow Readers
at St. Mary's Bushbury,
used to say when we get to heaven
there should not be too many surprises,
because as we live our lives on this earth
we should experience glimpses of heaven!
For many years I did not buy into this,
but as I have grown older I firmly believe
what my colleague said.
However not wishing to mix my metaphors
I also believe when we do get to heaven
we will experience three surprises!
First Surprise, there will be people there
who you never expected to make it,
secondly there will be people not there
you really thought would make it,
but the third surprise will be the biggest of them all,
you'll find yourself there
because of God in Christ's un-surpassing grace.
Let us Pray
God of busy roads and quiet lanes,
be our life's guide;
show us when to leave the route we've planned
to meet those in need or to attend to our own needs.
Keep us steady on your chosen path,
that we may show your love
to those who come alongside,
those who pass by,
and those who fall away.
Lord, may we never lose sight
of the signs to your kingdom;
And those tantalising glimpses
of glory to come
in the name of Jesus
who is himself the way.
If you've ever organised an important occasion,
from a birthday party to a wedding reception,
you'll be familiar with the
troublesome questions about who to invite.
There's the issue of where to draw the line:
if you invite one friend from a particular circle,
does that mean inviting everyone else in that group?
There may be those who regard themselves as your friends,
and will feel rebuffed if you don't ask them along.
And you may be disappointed if those whom you really want
to be there who turn you down,
especially if they only offer a flimsy excuse.
There can be the added complications:
if two friends have fallen out,
do you choose between them,
or ask both and allow them to exclude themselves
from the gathering if they have a problem
with the other being there?
With so many issues around the guest list alone,
you need to keep in mind the bigger picture
of the importance of the celebration
if you want to make it actually happen!
Jesus presents the kingdom of heaven's victorious
official blessing as a royal wedding feast:
a time of both joyful celebration
and profound significance.
All who are listening would begin
to imagine themselves invited
to such a royal wedding. A dream come true.
Yet, in Jesus' story, those to whom the king
has sent his personal invitation
seem at best indifferent and,
at worst, violently hostile.
No wonder the king is outraged
at the dishonour shown to his son.
We listeners share his shock.
Despite their refusal to attend,
the wedding feast is not called off:
the king sends his servants further afield
to draw in anyone and everyone.
Whatever the merits of those on the original guest list,
now the only qualification needed
for coming to the party is a willingness
to accept the king's generous invitation.
Many listening to Jesus' words would have
understood his parable's picture language,
though its message was far from comfortable.
The wedding party planned by God the king
for his Son represents the fulfillment
of his promise to send the Messiah to his people.
Yet his people would not welcome him.
The servants proclaiming the king's plans
stand for the Old Testament prophets
who foretold God's purposes,
but were rejected by those to whom
they brought good news of God's Kingdom
to be fulfilled in Christ.
It is deeply poignant Jesus,
the Son of God and the promised Messiah,
is facing some of this very rejection
even as he tells the parable,
a rejection leading
to his own vicious death on the cross.
Of course, the cross is followed
by his triumphant resurrection.
God's purposes, like the wedding feast,
are not cancelled.
God's kingdom has still come,
but now its grace extends out beyond
the Jewish nation to embrace all
who will welcome the Son,
no matter who they are.
But if we who are part of God's open invitation
to his Son's wedding party feel exempt
from the parable's message,
the final part of Jesus' narrative
pulls us up very short.
Looking round the roomful of guests,
the king sees a man not wearing
the appropriate wedding attire.
When challenged, the guest can offer no justification
for his negligence,
and is immediately thrown out of the gathering.
This is no arbitrary expulsion by a moody tyrant.
The offending guest had chosen not to adopt
the dress required for the occasion,
and, by so doing, effectively excluded themselves.
The message is sobering:
we enjoy God's company
by being clothed in his Son's righteousness.
Our own assessment and trappings
of good worth are not an adequate cover.
Society imagines heaven as an ethereal realm
of placid angels, gentle harps and floating clouds.
Jesus describes it as more like a wedding party.
How do we respond to the vitality,
joy and engagement that characterises
his presentation of the kingdom of heaven?
Do we look forward to the fullness of the Son's reign?
The king generously invites us into his kingdom.
How will we respond?
Are we preoccupied with our business
in this world or resentful of God's call
upon our personal lives?
Or are we ready to receive his open-hearted welcome?
And if we have joined the party
to honour the Son,
are we grateful guests?
It can be easy to forget that we enter the kingdom
through Christ's merits alone.
We are also called, as citizens of heaven,
to continue to submit our whole lives
to Jesus as Lord, day by day:
we may enter the kingdom through grace,
but we cannot demand to stay there on our own terms.
In Jesus' parable,
the king invites his people to his son's wedding feast.
Their rejection means he extends
his invitation to any who will accept it.
This represents how God's salvation
in Christ reaches out to all.
The wrongly dressed guest's expulsion
reminds us of our call to kingdom-living,
once we have received God's grace.
Are we eager to enter the kingdom of heaven
and live as its faithful citizens?
May God the Father
bring us to the banquet;
which his Son prepares for all who love him.
May God the Son give us the will
to live for him each day in life eternal.
May God the Holy Spirit give us the assurance
that our citizenship is in heaven
with the blessed and beloved,
and the whole company of the redeemed.
And the blessing of God almighty......