Grace Episcopal Church, Monroe, La.
I don’t like this story.
I mean really.., listen to that punch line again: “Many will be called, but few will be chosen” (NRSV, Matthew 22:1-14). What an un-Jesusy thing to say.
And what an awful punishment to mete out to the poor schmuck who shows up at the wedding banquet in the wrong clothes! For those of us with the fashion sense of a turnip, this is not good news.
So let’s go back to the beginning of the story and see what sense can be made of it. Jesus is speaking in parables again, and we know full well that Jesus’ parables telling us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like often turn the world as we know it inside out. This one is no different.
It begins with a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son. A lot of us have been there and done that, and we know that you invite relatives and good friends—people you know and care about—to a wedding banquet.
But, shockingly, in this case, the invited guests do not come—even after being invited twice. Some appear to be just too busy. They go off to work the farm instead, or to the office to take care of business.
Others get downright ill-tempered about it and abuse—even kill—the messengers delivering the invitation. It’s almost as though they don’t trust the king who has sent the invitation.
Perhaps they fear the king will have invited folks they don’t normally hang out with—like people of other political or religious persuasions or socio-economic statuses, and then what would you talk about for two whole hours?
Maybe they’re afraid they’ll get to the banquet and be asked to do something they don’t like doing or don’t feel good at, like share a story from their own life, maybe something the king has done for them.
Maybe they’re worried about what it will cost them in terms of missed work, having to buy a gift, or having to share out of their own plenty with those who have less.
Or maybe they just resent the king’s claim on their time and their life.
Perhaps some of these reasons for not responding to an invitation sound familiar to you. They sure do to me.
Whatever the case, they don’t come. And guess what? You can’t be a guest if you ignore or reject the invitation.
And so the king, being upset as wouldn’t we all be, sends out new messengers to gather up anyone and everyone from the streets and byways to come to the banquet—and they come.
What an odd assortment of characters must have been in that crowd! “The good and bad,” Jesus said; come they did and commence to party.
They became the kings honored guests—not because they were relatives or friends or of the right political persuasion or socio-economic status. And not because they had earned the king’s favor in any way. The king’s messengers invited everyone.
And they became the kings guests because they chose to respond to his invitation.
This story reminds us that “choosing” and “being chosen” are two sides of a single coin. It’s a 2-way street. We can’t be chosen if we don’t choose back.
Think about the people in your life. Can you choose a “best friend,” if that person does not want to be your best friend?
Anyone in this room ever have a crush on someone who didn’t return the sentiment? Doesn’t go very far, does it? Not much fun, is it? Even a business partnership requires a mutual choosing.
If you’re married, think about how that happened. One of you probably initiated the relationship, made the first move. But it was a mutual choosing.
And it didn’t happen just once. To stay together you must choose each other, over and over again. Being in relationship means constant choosing chosen-ness. A million big and little things—annoyance, distractions, “epic disagreements”—will require you to choose each other over and over again.., even when you are not aware that that’s what you are doing.
And finally, think about the pain of choosing someone who does not choose you back. Or, worse, who chooses you for a time, and then un-chooses you.
Losing a friendship, losing a marriage, losing an employer-employee relationship; all are painful un-choosings that can send human lives into a tailspin.
Are you worried about the guy who gets thrown out because he’s not wearing the proper clothes? He chose back, but not really. He came to the party half-heartedly. He’s there, he’s making an appearance.., but he’s sitting in the corner.. or the back pew.. looking to make a quick escape… before anything much can be asked of him. Been there and done that, too.
See, it’s a whole lot easier to go to church than to put on the wedding robe of God’s Love and actually follow Jesus. It’s perfectly possible, even rather easy, to say, “Yes, Lord, I love you, I choose you…” but then to be certain there’s nothing we can do to solve the problem of health care for all of our neighbors.
We can go to church week after week, year after year, and be more worried about the price of produce at the grocery store than about whether the people who pick the produce can feed their kids by the sweat of their brow. We can say, “Lord, Lord,” and never once wonder how many jobs the people who wait your table at the restaurant might be working to make ends meet.
How often have we been too busy, too hurt, too angry, too fearful… to accept the chosen-ness God offers us? How often have we responded, but half-heartedly, or grudgingly.., or with a sort of empty piety?
I am reminded of Jonah. Not responding to God’s claim on us can send us straight into the belly of the beast, where we will surely weep and gnash our teeth.
But here’s the Good New: With all of our faults and limitations, our stinginess, our blind self-righteousnes, we are whom God wants. Jesus says, “The many…” which I take to be inclusive: “The multitude of humankind.” Or, as we might say in the deep south: “all of y’all.”
God chooses us—over and over again. Every minute of every hour of every day, God chooses us. That’s the beauty of it. If we don’t choose back at this moment, we’ll have another chance in the next. If we don’t care for this neighbor in the ditch today, we will encounter another tomorrow….
We are invited to the banquet we call the Kingdom of Heaven—and not just one of some far off future “next life,” but the one Jesus insisted was within and among us, the one we pray for here on earth each and every time we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.
And more. We are invited to be God’s love here on this earth. We are called to become God’s hands and feet responding to the pain of the world. And by the grace and love of God, we become what we choose back.
In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. AMEN