God’s Gracious Invitation

Brunswick Monogrammist|Public domain

Synopsis: Our mistaken human perception of God as an employer and Creation as a paycheck to be earned causes us to resist God’s blessings, thus rejecting His gracious invitation to partake in the wedding banquet of His Son.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22: 1-14

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Imagine that you’re planning a huge graduation party for your son or daughter, so you send out invitations to all your friends and neighbors, and they all send back their RSVPs stating that they would attend.

You spare no expense and put a lot of time and effort into making the party awesome with everything anyone could possibly want: spreads of delicious food, a DJ spinning favorite tunes, and fun games for all ages.

Finally, the time arrives for the party to start, and you wait … and wait … and wait … but no one is showing up. So, you send your son or daughter out to tell people, “Hey! The food is out! The DJ is spinning tunes! The games are ready! Come now!”

You assume the invited guests will say something like, “Oh! The party’s today – like right now? Holy Toledo! I’ll be right there!” But instead, when your son or daughter returns, you hear that they’re saying, “Well … I’m kind of busy right now.”

How would you feel, and what would you do? It’s hard for us to imagine people acting this way, but Jesus teaches us in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet that that’s pretty much how we respond to God’s Gracious invitation.

Our scripture reading for today is situated within Jesus’ response to the elders and the scribes questioning his authority. They questioned his authority because the day before Jesus had entered into Jerusalem peacefully on a donkey, and the crowds welcomed him shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!”

Immediately after his entry, Jesus went to the Temple and drove out the merchants and moneychangers who had set up shop to essentially rob worshippers coming to the Temple from distant lands through low currency exchange rates and high prices. He then set up shop himself to teach and heal the people.

The next day, he returned to the Temple to continue his teaching and healing ministry when the chief priests and elders confronted him, asking “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” They were trying to discredit Jesus, but he turned the tables on them – something he was very good at.

First, he turned the questioners into the questioned, agreeing to answer their question only if they would answer his first. Then he struck them between a rock and a hard place with a question about whether the baptism of John had come from God.

The chief priests and elders couldn’t answer his question yes or no without either discrediting themselves or angering the crowd, so they said, “We do not know.” As a result, Jesus refused to answer their question.

He then launched into a series of three parables designed to discredit the chief priests and elders – to expose their lack of divine authority because they were not following Torah Law. Instead of guiding the people toward a closer relationship with God, they were guiding them in the opposite direction.

He began with the Parable of Two Sons, followed by the Parable of the Wicked Tenets. The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is the third in this series of parables.

A king throws a wedding banquet for his son. The two calls are consistent with Middle Eastern tradition. The first call’s purpose is to invite the guests, and the second call’s purpose is to announce that the festivities have begun. This was practical since they didn’t have clocks back then, so it’s not like they could tell everyone to show up at 1 PM.

But when the servants give the second call, we read, the guests “made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”

In our Western culture, if no one showed up for your son or daughter’s graduation party, most people will judge your son or daughter. They figure, people must not like him or her for some reason. Maybe he or she is weird – like some nerdy middle school kid who invites everyone in the class to his or her birthday party, but no one shows up. They don’t blame the classmates; they blame the kid for being a nerd.

In Eastern culture, it’s the opposite. Guests are obligated to attend, or they would shame the host. Shame is a big deal in the East, so you’d better not even think about not showing up unless you have a really good reason. The fact that the invited guests in Jesus’ story made light of it, “blew it off” as we would say, would have been appalling to his audience.

Brad H. Young, professor of Biblical Literature in Judeo-Christian Studies at Oral Roberts University, believes Luke’s version of this parable is probably the closest to the actual parable Jesus taught. Matthew adds some things to allude to historical events and to combine several of Jesus’ teachings into one parable.

Remember that all the gospels were written for a specific audience and purpose. Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jews, and his purpose was to show them the error of their ways by proving that Jesus is the Messiah the prophets predicted.

In Matthew’s version of this parable, some of the invited guests mistreated and even killed the servants. Young believes Matthew added this part to allude to the Jews’ mistreatment of the early Christians.

In response to this disrespect, the king refused to be shamed. We read “He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Young believes this part was also added by Matthew to allude to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. – a tragedy Jesus predicts in Mark’s gospel, which is the oldest of the four gospels and used as a source by both Matthew and Luke.

Next, we read the king sent his servants out to invite anyone they find – both the good and the bad – to fill up the wedding hall. This act of charity would place the king in high esteem and shame those who insulted him through their refusal to attend.

But it turns out that a man was there who was not wearing a wedding robe. We read he was thrown out to “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Young believes that Matthew also added this additional complication to emphasize one of Jesus’ teachings.

In his gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ problem with the religious leaders of his day was their ability to put on good outward show, but their hearts were not pure. Many Jews believed they were “entitled” to take their place in the Kingdom of Heaven because of God’s covenant with Abraham.

That’s why they rejected John’s Baptism, and that’s why, in Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptist said to them, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

In the very next chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees. In verses 25-26, he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.”

You might be asking, “How is it that we respond in much the same way to God’s gracious invitation? “

Jesus begins the Parable of the Wedding Banquet with the words, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” We can safely assume the King is God, His Son is the Christ, and we are the invited wedding guests. In fact, we are the betrothed – the ones destined to join with Christ.

Just as a host goes through extensive preparation to ensure that all the guests have everything they could possibly need or want, God created Creation just for us, and He gave us everything we could ever need or want. Everything that we could ever need or want exists within Creation.

In fact, God loves us so much that he made it impossible for us to be separated from this abundance by creating us part of it – part of the whole of Creation. We are made of the same stuff as everything else that God created – everything in existence, so everything that we could ever need or want literally exists within us.

All of Creation is our inheritance as God’s offspring. He gave it to us as a free gift. If this is so, then why do so many struggle to get the bare essentials they need to survive while others have far more than they need?

The clue is in the words, they “went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” We turn down God’s Gracious Invitation because we have learned to see God and His Creation incorrectly. Jesus came to try to correct our misperceptions – to give us a fresh (and truthful) view of ourselves, of God, and of Creation – all of Life.

How are we mistaken in how we see God and Creation? We see God as an employer and Creation as a paycheck to be earned. But God is not an employer, and Creation is not a paycheck because it can’t be earned – it’s a free gift. We can either accept it or reject it, but we can’t earn it.

And that, my friends, is why we often feel so angry around the topic of money. No matter how much we earn, it’s never enough because money is really just a symbol for the abundance of God’s Creation which cannot be earned.  

It is also why we often feel as if we are lacking. Those who are the “have-nots” are afraid they won’t get what they need, and those who are the “haves” are afraid of losing what they have, so they keep striving for more, even at the expense of others.

Because we don’t trust God and are too proud to accept his free gift, we rely totally on ourselves, so we’re far too busy working hard to obtain or maintain what we need or want. We are a culture that values hard work, and I’m German, so trust me, I understand that mindset. But this “need-to-earn” mindset prevents us from accepting our inheritance from God.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15, both sons viewed their father like an employer. When the prodigal son returned, he hoped his father would at least take him as a hired hand. Wasn’t he surprised when his father embraced him, forgave him, and took him back in full standing as a son?

The father was so happy that his son returned that he threw a feast, but the older son refused to participate because he was angry. The older son felt that since he served his father his whole life and never left him, he “earned” that feast – not his prodigal brother. The father responds with basically, “What are you talking about, my son? Everything I have is yours. There’s nothing to earn.”

The older son’s anger is our anger. Think about how much people resent those who come into money by inheritance because they didn’t earn it. But what kind of parent would you be if you made your children earn their inheritance, instead of giving it to them freely and equally just because they are your son or daughter, and you love them?

What if you offered your child a huge inheritance, one that would have him or her set for life, and he or she stuck up his or her hand and said, “No thanks! I’d rather work my fingers to the bone until the day I die.” Would that not break your heart?

Do we need to earn the beating of our hearts? Do we need to earn the breathing of our lungs? Do we need to earn the oxygen we breathe? Do we need to even ask God for these blessings? No – they are a free gift, and if these are free gifts, then all of it is a free gift. All of it.

Of course, human perception sees things differently – just as in our human perception, we believed that we are just this personal self and nothing more. This was necessary for a time for our learning, but that time is over. We know better now, and we don’t need to buy into that misperception any longer.

The same is true of this one – this misperception of God as an employer and Creation as a paycheck to be earned. Obviously, we can’t walk into a store, grab something off the shelf, and walk out without paying for it because it’s a free gift of God’s Creation! We still have to live within the systems and institutions that were created by humans who didn’t know who they are, who God is, and their unity with All That Is.

But we know, so while we must operate within these systems and institutions of earning, we don’t have to agree that they represent reality. Reality is that God is our loving Father and Creation is a free gift.

If we don’t believe this, then it’s like we’re throwing logs into the stream of God’s blessings and creating log jams. We also can’t view God like a genie in a bottle, who, if we rub the right way, must give us what we ask because he promised in his covenant with us.

That’s just another way of seeing God outside of ourselves and another way of trying to “earn” his blessings. That’s no different from the scribes and elders saying, “We don’t need John’s baptism because we are descendants from Abraham.” With that attitude, we may be at the banquet looking for some blessings, but we’re not wearing wedding robes.

When we are united with Christ, our will and God’s Will become one, so whatever we ask will be granted. And there is no one on the face of this earth who has the power to remove God from his throne or your authority in Christ, not even the President of the United States, whoever it ends up being.

 So, my friends, how do we accept God’s Gracious invitation to join the wedding banquet of His Son? We ask God for what we need or want with full faith that it will be granted. Because if it is God’s Will to grant our request, nothing will stop what we asked for from coming to us expect our own resistance – our own belief that we must somehow “earn it.”

Then, we be on the lookout for the arrival of our request. We might be given some brilliant idea, or a messenger might come along with some helpful information, or an opportunity might present itself that will move us in the right direction, or someone might just come along and give us exactly what we needed or wanted at the perfect time.

Finally, we must be grateful – grateful for everything we have been given because if we are grateful, God will bring more and more things into our life to be grateful for, and that’s when we know we’ve accepted his gracious invitation: when the banquet becomes our reality.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we accept who we are in Christ and God’s gracious invitation to receive his blessings. We are willing to become aware of old patterns of resistance that prevent us from receiving God’s blessings so that we, wearing the robes of Christ, may joyfully and gratefully participate in the glorious banquet of Creation that God has lovingly given us as our inheritance. AMEN.

Resources

Young, Brad H. The Parables (p. 171-188). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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