Materials for Worship at Home on Sunday 15th October

Moira writes: As you prepare for worship, today’s readings are Exodus 32,1-14, Philippians 4.1-9 and Matthew 22.1-14. The image is from the Jesus Mafa collection, depicting the parable of the Wedding Banquet.

In this morning’s Gospel we hear a very strange parable about guests invited to a wedding who reject the invitation and behave very badly. As in all good stories, the strong point, the most telling point, comes at the end – the condemnation of the man who accepted the invitation to the banquet but came without respect for his host. But how could someone, who was called in from the street, possibly come prepared with a special robe? I suppose when we think about it, it’s no more surprising than the equity of paying the workers in the vineyard, in the Gospel passage two weeks ago, the same rate for unequal hours worked! Perhaps we are taking this passage too literally. The guest at the banquet looks like he was being a bit too casual, not just in the clothes that he wore, but maybe he was thinking more about the food. In our first reading this morning, we see that those who have been called by God to be his chosen people are once again rebelling and showing no respect for him. They are being led to freedom, to a new land, but they are not satisfied with what God has provided for them and this gives them an excuse to turn away and worship the golden calf.

In the time of Jesus, it was common to invite guests to the elaborate wedding festivities well in advance of the day. And then a reminder invitation would go out just before the feast. To have been invited not once but twice and then not to have attended would have already amounted to a great slight to the host. But in this parable, this is not the worst thing that happened! The guests not only refused to show up, they abused and even killed the king’s messengers that came to remind them about the invitation. The following words in this passage are very hard to hear. The king was so enraged he sent out his troops to destroy the murderous guests and burned their city, and then he sent the troops out into the streets to invite anyone there to come to the banquet. When the king then noticed the man not wearing a wedding robe his following words are somewhat harsh, after all, the man did accept the invitation. The king’s words once again seem so unfair. “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’ Not exactly encouraging words!

Thank goodness that Paul had such encouraging words in our Epistle. Paul addresses his Philippian community as his brothers and sisters and encourages them to stand firm in the Lord, telling them how they can do this. They are to ‘support and help one another at all times.’ Most importantly, they are to ‘rejoice in the Lord always, showing gentleness to everyone and taking their worries to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving’. If they can do this, then ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’ Those of us who know and love God, should find that it makes a difference in our lives. Life is, I believe, to be lived in joy and hope, with love towards others, thankful for the blessings we have received, obedient to the call of today and with confidence in the future when God’s whole purpose is complete.

After those comforting and encouraging words from Paul, I’m afraid we must return to our Gospel parable of the Wedding Banquet. How easy it is for us, with our busy lives, to regard or disregard an unexpected invitation as an intrusion. In an age of consumerism, we hear more about rights than privileges. We control our choices. Whether to support and do something about climate change as we have discussed in the Season of Creation. We can choose to buy locally or continue shopping in large supermarkets, we can choose to buy only vegetables and fruit when they are in season, or whenever we want to eat them regardless of where they have been grown. The choices are ours to make. We surf the internet for news, but we decided what we want to see or read from its many options. No one has a claim on us unless it’s our choice. When God says, “Seek ye first,” we respond with “let me first…” We often put our needs first before responding to God’s call. Those who were invited to the banquet that day, made light of the call. One went to his farm and one to his business. There is no sign of either of these men engaging in unsavoury activities, and yet the King was enraged. It makes us think, why was the king so harsh in his words and actions? However, we must not miss the point – these were responsible busy people in the everyday working world. They were simply so consumed with the “dailyness” of their tight schedules, that nothing could break through – in their eyes, even God could wait! The invited guests who turned away and refused the King’s invitation may well have been doing good things on the farm and at business, but in their busyness, they missed out on the banquet. If a person is full (or busy) an invitation to a feast is not good news. No wonder Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Those whose stomachs and schedules are full, cannot experience a spiritual hunger for the kingdom of God.

There is a postscript in our parable this morning that makes us ask questions, something that Jesus often does in his parables. The King arrives at the banquet, greets his guests, and notices that one of them is not wearing a wedding garment. When asked why, the man is speechless, and so the host has him forcefully evicted and thrown into the darkness. We are never told why the man didn’t observe the dress code. Was he a latecomer and all the robes were taken? Did he not have time to change his clothes? Why would a king who was gracious enough to invite the man in the first place, turn around and rudely evict him from the banquet? One commentator suggests that garments may have been provided at the door and this makes the man’s refusal to wear one more serious. Even then, the punishment seems cruel and unusual for the crime. It wasn’t as if Jesus was particular when it came to clothing. Again, in the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body , what you shall put on.” This dramatic turn in the parable has little to do with dress code I think. Some of the guests had made light of the invitation by staying away, but this man was making light of the invitation after he had come along.
God’s gracious invitation always comes to us, as we are, but we need to come to him not as we were. God’s grace is free, but it is not to be taken lightly. We must not assume that once we are at the Lord’s table we can stay as we are. As consumers of God’s grace, we dare not be presumers of that grace. In other words, we mustn’t take it for granted. As Christian’s we must not regard belonging to our church community as a right rather than a privilege. We must try to see the call to God’s banquet as something we receive with joy and gratitude. As Paul says, we must ‘rejoice in the Lord always,” and try to feel the urgency of God’s call to come to him, to his banquet, to his table with thanksgiving in our hearts. “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

You may wish to pray this prayer by Raymond Chapman
Gracious God, I am often an unworthy guest at your table. I come to you carrying my doubt and anxiety, my resentment of other guests, my indifference to seeking your full purpose for me. Have mercy on my weakness and bring me to a right mind and a true heart in your service, so that I may not fall under judgement when I taste your feast. Amen.