An Invitation*

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: 28 Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 11, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: God is gracious. God is just. We often emphasize the first and ignore the latter. This parable includes both grace and justice. The good news is that God's grace is offered to all. We do a disservice to God and to God's grace if we believe there are not consequences for rejecting that same grace.

In 2016, Verizon ran a 30-second TV commercial featuring Jamie Foxx in which the actor introduced Verizon as "America's best network." A few seconds into the commercial, another actor, also claiming to be Jamie Foxx, talked about Sprint's new "unlimited plan," at which point a buzzer sounded and a huge asterisk appeared on the screen. Each time the imposter spoke, the buzzer sounded, and the asterisk appeared, and the imposter quietly mentioned the conditions that apply to the "unlimited plan." It was an effective commercial for Verizon.1

In 2019, Spectrum ran a 60-second TV commercial in which a spokesperson for Spectrum said that other internet and TV providers promise you their "best," but they all have "THAT," at which time the spokesperson pointed to a huge asterisk on the screen. At that juncture, the spokesperson began to take apart the asterisk, and each part represented another condition that had to be met in order for Spectrum's competitors to offer their service - conditions like a contract or early termination fees or paying extra for a modem or paying extra for security software. It was an effective commercial for Spectrum.2

These were successful commercials because we all know about the asterisk - or about the fine print or about the "speed-speaker" at the end of radio commercials. We know about these things because most, or perhaps all of us have been taken in by the hype and have missed the asterisk (shown or implied) at one time or another.

The implication of the ads is that asterisks are always a bad thing. But not always. In today's text Jesus told a parable and, at first reading, it seems like there's an asterisk missing. Or maybe we're just missing something ourselves ...

The parable of the wedding banquet

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus tells this parable a day or so after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Given the timing, this was clearly of great importance to Jesus. And as his followers, it's important to us.

This parable appears in both Matthew and Luke,3 but Matthew's account differs from Luke's in a few ways. In Luke, "someone" hosts a dinner; in Matthew, the host is a king, and the dinner is a wedding banquet. In Luke, the host is disappointed when the invited guests don't come, and so he invites anyone who can be rounded up; in Matthew, not only do the invited decline to come, but they murder the messengers who brought the invitation to them. And in Matthew, the king is not so much disappointed as enraged, and he sends his troops to kill the murderers and destroy their city. Then the king sent his slaves to go into the streets and invite everyone. They did as the king asked and "gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests."

Beyond those differences, Matthew includes a "Part 2" to the parable that is not in Luke. The king goes in to see the guests and notices a man "not wearing a wedding robe." He speaks to the man, saying, "Friend, how did you get in here without wearing a wedding robe?" (Biblical commentator Tom Long points out that in Matthew, it's never a good thing to be addressed as "Friend." Every time someone is called a friend in Matthew, what follows is not pleasant.4) The offense of this man is that he had not donned the wedding robe that was provided by the host. It was there for his use, and he chose not to wear it. The man had no answer; he was speechless. So, he was ejected from the banquet and thrown into the outer darkness where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Asterisk # 1*

Jesus tells us that this parable is about the kingdom of heaven. As such, we read or hear it looking for information about the kingdom of heaven and how to enter it. Through this parable, Jesus tells us several things.

It all starts with the king (presumably representing God). It is the king who issues the invitation at his discretion. That invitation issued by God is largely ignored. The invited guests have their priorities all wrong. Perhaps Jesus is pointing out that there is a huge difference between someone who has the form of religion and someone who is a true believer. Note that the invited guests did not ignore the king's invitation in order to pursue wild immorality; they simply went about their ordinary, everyday existence. They ignored the king's best in order to do something much less.

The king sent out a second invitation. This time the reaction was just terrible. Jesus said that the messengers (a reference to the prophets) again received some half-hearted excuses, but many of the invited "seized [the king's] slaves, mistreated them, and killed them." At that point, the enraged king had the murderers killed and their city destroyed.

The obvious question is this: Why didn't the people simply ignore the messengers again? It doesn't make sense. Unless Jesus is saying that there are really only two responses to God's invitation. Either we accept God's grace and humbly enter the kingdom of heaven, or we reject both God and those who bring the invitation.

Asterisk #1 is this: *An invitation from God is not a trivial matter. It is a gracious gift extended to all who will receive it. We will see that God goes on to expand his invitation, but we dare not miss the fact that ultimately, God's invitation has eternal implications for all of us. We ignore it at our own peril.

Asterisk # 2*

The good news in this parable, of course, is that the king does not give up. He sends his slaves out again, this time expanding the invitation to everyone. And the wedding hall was filled. God's grace is for everyone because everyone needs it. And it would be wonderful if the story ended there, but it doesn't. As we saw a few minutes ago, when the king came in to see his guests, he saw one had not put on the wedding robe, an item supplied by the king himself. We can only guess why someone would do this, but perhaps his thinking was something like this: "The king is lucky to have me here. I've taken time out of my busy schedule to come to this banquet. I'm a self-made man and I deserve to be here. There's no reason for me to wear the wedding robe. What I'm wearing is fashionable and it is quite elegant. It's just right for a party like this. I'll fit in just fine."

But when the king confronted him, he had nothing to say. All his self-confidence and pride did him no good. He just didn't stack up to all the others who were relying on God's grace alone.

Asterisk # 2* is this: *God offers us righteousness that we do not deserve and which we cannot earn. It's a gift, but we must receive it sincerely.

Not asterisks, but evidence of God's grace

In the spring of 2019 Sprint came out with another ad featuring their spokesman, Paul Marcarelli. He said that rather than listening to all the hype from the many cell phone companies, Sprint was offering a "100% Total Satisfaction Guarantee: Try it out and see the savings. If you don't love it, get your money back."5 Simple ... try it out.

The king issued the invitations to people who had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those who responded in humility and thankfulness had the time of their lives and their lives were forever changed, not because of what they brought with them but because of what they received from the king. The man who chose not to accept the wedding robe from the king was thrown out in utter despair.

Does it make a difference?

Jesus concluded this parable by saying, "For many are called, but few are chosen." The passing of 2,000 years have not made those words untrue. The feast is prepared, and God still gives the invitation to all. God's servants still go out into the world so the invitation can be given to everyone. The banquet table is set, and God is waiting for you with open arms. There are no asterisks, only God's grace being extended to you. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether you will exchange your filthy rags for the robe of righteousness and salvation which God offers to all.