The feast of the Triune God is a feast of welcome and restoration of the whole creation, starting now and continuing into the life to come, and you’re invited. Period.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 28 A
Texts: Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Matthew 22:1-14
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
There’s only one question for you today: are you coming to God’s party?
It’s going to be glorious. David says the cups will overflow and the feast will be spread between enemies, it’s a reconciliation feast. Jesus says the feast celebrates the joining of the Son of God with the creation, and all can come. Isaiah says God’s feast starts here but continues beyond death, destroying death in the process, and it is for all peoples, a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. It sounds wonderful.
And you’ve got the invitation in your hands, embossed with the royal seal: “child of God, beloved of God, come to my party, eat and be filled with my goodness.”
So, are you coming or not?
You realize, don’t you, that we don’t have to read this whole parable, with all the destruction, right? You can stop early. If the invitees had come, there just would have been a party, a feast, a celebration. No one has to miss this feast, not in Isaiah or Psalm 23 or Jesus’ parable.
But, maybe you think it’s cheating to stop the parable early, when the meal’s ready, and all are told to come.
That’s fair. We should look at the painful parts of this parable.
The first invitees ignore the invitation, abuse and kill the people who came to get them. Their city is burned to the ground with everyone in it. One guy who comes in the second sweep rejects the robe provided for him and gets bound hand and foot, tossed into the outer darkness, where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth. Many are called, but few are chosen, you say. That’s how the parable really ends.
Fine. Let’s consider that. Matthew says all these parables we’re hearing in these weeks were told by Jesus in the first days of Holy Week. And we can’t pretend these late parables aren’t filled with strong warnings of punishment by Jesus for those who don’t comply.
There are a couple possibilities. Jesus is under intense stress as he approaches Good Friday. He’s running out of time to teach, and knows he’s going to suffer horribly. At least half his disciples – the male half, since the women seem to acquit themselves much better – keep missing his point and misunderstanding his mission. Maybe he’s frightened they’ll never get it, so he fills his parables this week with threats to get their attention.
Or maybe he meant every word. Maybe Jesus really meant you don’t get second chances. You turn from God’s invite, and that’s it. You’re outside God’s grace and love. It’s a horrible thought, but it’s possible.
But if I can’t stop reading the parable early, you can’t stop reading early either.
If I have to read all the way to “many are called and few are chosen,” I insist you read all the way to the end of chapter 28, the end of Matthew. (While you’re at it, check out the other three Gospels in full, too.) You’ll going to see an entirely different picture. There may be mystery over why Jesus said these harsh things, but there’s absolutely no mystery about what Jesus actually did.
Because whatever Jesus meant to say with his threatening words in Holy Week, he does none of it when he rises from the dead. He does the opposite.
The king burns the city who rejected the wedding, and kills everyone? The Risen Christ sends his disciples back into the city to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection, even to those who rejected it before, in hopes that now they’ll come to the party. He insists they start with Jerusalem.
The king takes a guy and throws him into the outer darkness? Jesus, God-with-us, on Friday will allow himself to be bound hand and foot and thrown into that very outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And will bring back everyone from the darkness into resurrection life.
And “many are called, but few are chosen?” The Risen Christ sends the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and pours God’s grace and power over anyone who wants it, and then sends out those Spirit-filled ones to try and get to every person on earth. Christ chooses everyone.
There is something so simple and joy-filled about all of these late parables of Jesus.
But we obsess over the judgment parts. It’s as if we need to insist that the awful punishments threatened by the Son of God still apply, still must be accounted for, or else we despair about how God’s love in our human flesh would make such threats.
But why focus on those parts? Every single parable here starts with invitation and joy and can stop right there. If you just focus on that invitation and joy. If you hear Jesus’ loving voice saying, “come to me.” You’ll find a joy glorious to behold.
So – are you coming to God’s party or not?
It’s a party for here and for now. God’s clear about that. God intends the abundance of creation to be shared with all God’s children on earth, with all having enough to eat and drink, all sheltered, all whole, all happy. We’ve got more instructions than we need from God’s Word as to how we can help that feast happen here in this life. But if you don’t want to be at a feast with everyone, if you’re worried that if everyone’s cup runs over, yours might go dry, maybe it’s not your thing.
It’s a party for everyone, “good folks and bad folks,” Jesus says. David says your enemies are invited to God’s feast, too. Maybe that’s the dealbreaker. You only want to feast with God with your people.
Why reject Isaiah, though? Isaiah says the party’s going to keep going after you and I and everyone dies. Eventually, the party favor everyone gets is that no one ever has to leave the party. Death is now a blip, and the feast just keeps going. In even more raucous joy and celebration. For all people, Isaiah says.
In a moment, we’re going to have a feast.
It’s not exactly the same as these we’re hearing of. We sometimes call it a “foretaste of the feast to come,” a sign of what God’s feast will look like not only in the world to come, but if God’s way is done, in this world as well.
Because you and everyone are welcome to come and eat God’s very being, to be blessed by God’s undying love for you, to be forgiven and healed and made whole. Anyone here who wants to come to the feast can come. This feast reveals what God’s greater feast is meant to be, even on this earth. So we never turn people away.
Maybe this time, as you eat and drink, you can imagine the overfilled cups and groaning tables of the feast God intends for all on this planet, now and forever, and say, “yes, I really want to come to that party. And I want to help make sure everyone else is there, too.” Because Good News: the invitation has always been there for you. And for all.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen