The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the 19th Sunday After Pentecost — with food for thought on being called and being chosen … and giving love authority over our lives. Gnaw away!
Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said, “The kin-dom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’ But they took no notice one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town.
“Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honor. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’ The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests.
“The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table, and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“Many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
Jesus’ conversation with the scribes and elders following his cleansing of the Temple continues with another parable — but here it takes a turn. The previous parables involving vineyards allowed them to wrestle with their decision to accept or reject Jesus. Here, the parable of the wedding banquet — the climax of Jesus’ storytelling — makes clear the consequences of choosing to reject Jesus.
The Jesus who fed the five thousand and the four thousand has set up shop in a Temple that is now open for business as a hub of God’s great abundance for humanity. It is the wedding banquet — and everyone has been invited. But the invitations have been rejected — at times violently. And those actions — like all our actions — have consequences. And that’s not all. It’s not enough to just show up to the banquet. You have to adopt the disciplines and abide by the norms of the community. Not doing that has consequences, too.
A few things to chew on:
This is a hard reading for anyone who wants to believe church should be a community of complete unconditional acceptance. That’s not the Body of Christ. What is unconditional is the invitation. Everyone is invited. And it’s OK not to accept the invitation. Not everyone finds following Jesus as their path deep into the divine. There are other wonderful paths … AND if you do choose this one (or it chooses you), there are expectations. The first is we have to accept the invitation. We have to acknowledge we are actually going to embrace the abundant life Jesus offers. We have to, in the words of our baptism, “put our whole trust in Christ’s grace and love” and “promise to follow and obey Christ” Accepting the invitation is giving Christ power over our lives … something that is incredibly challenging in a world where we are told we are the power in our lives. Something that is incredibly challenging in a world where we are governed in ways we might not even recognize not by Christ, but by our own appetites for different food than what Jesus offers.
Just showing up to the banquet isn’t enough either. On first reading, the treatment of the person who didn’t have the wedding garment seems random and cruel — but it is critical to Jesus’ vision for us as the church. It’s not enough just to put your butt in the seat. As Jesus said in the previous parables, it is about “bearing fruit.” Have we clothed ourselves in the love of Christ, in the study and service of Christ? Have we, in the words of Paul, “put on the armor of Christ?” In other words, are we serious about this? Are we coming to the community of Christ not just to hang out, but to be transformed into Christ ourselves? Are we willing to accept that love that God has for all God’s children, give that love authority over our lives and be changed by it?
Woody Allen famously said “90 percent of life is just showing up.” … but Jesus’ binding and ejection of the wedding guest who wasn’t dressed properly reminds us that the Christian life turns that percentage on its head. It’s not just about “showing up” but about bearing fruit. About how we allow ourselves to be changed by showing up. By how much we truly “put our whole trust in Christ’s grace and love.”
This week, think about your life as a part of this All Saints Church community. Are you just showing up … or are you always looking for ways to give your life to Christ? Think of one thing you can do thing you can do this week that demonstrates to you that your participation in the Body here is not just about “showing up.” Think of one thing you can do that will help you taste the abundance of the feast Christ has set before us.
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” Jesus said it. What does it mean? What is the difference between being called and chosen. Theologians have wrestled with it – now it’s your turn. What does this mean in your life? Where are you being called right now? What are you being chosen for? When you think of the “many” and the “few” where do you find yourself? This week, journal about that!
A Deal We Can Refuse
“Discipleship is not an offer that we make to Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
In The Godfather, Michael Corleone talks about “making someone an offer he can’t refuse” as a way of getting what he wants.
Jesus does the opposite.
Jesus makes us an offer that is incredibly refusable. And we know that because we refuse it all the time.
Jesus offers an invitation to a feast. An amazing, abundant feast. A feast that will change our lives and make them better than we can possibly imagine. But in order to accept the invitation, we need to choose not just to come but to become a part of the feeding of the other guests. In order to accept, we have to admit we can’t feed ourselves this way on our own.
That means following Jesus is not something we get to do on our terms — a little bit here, a little bit there … like Jefferson’s Bible where he crossed out the parts he didn’t agree with. It is an offer, an invitation only on Jesus’ terms. And he speaks in absolutes — “Leave everything.” “Follow me.” “Bear fruit.”
It is a narrow gate to enter through. And especially for communities like ours that value (and even pride ourselves on) being welcoming and inclusive, that can feel like it really rubs against the grain. That’s it’s somehow unloving — when in fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s the height of loving.
Jesus welcomes all of us as we are but loves us way too much to let us stay that way. Jesus invites us down a difficult but ultimately amazingly rewarding path because she longs for us to become fully the image of God she sees in us … and because she has every faith that we have it in us to do it.
That doesn’t mean accepting the invitation is easy. Those absolutes are incredibly hard. I haven’t left everything. I don’t bear as much fruit as I could. Thankfully, neither God’s love for us nor the love we get to have for each other is conditional on our performance. God knows that we are going to struggle and God loves us through it and bids us love one another through it. But that doesn’t mean we move the goalposts closer and pretend the task to which we are called is less daunting than it is.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood up for the Gospel and against Hitler at the cost of his life. The challenge of following Jesus is not to consider Bonhoeffer an extraordinary saint whose example we could not possibly emulate but rather to consider Bonhoeffer a rather ordinary person – just like you or I – who decided fully to answer the call of Christ.
The truth of this Gospel reading – and Bonhoeffer’s life – is that when we come together as Christ’s Body, the Church, we are accepting an invitation at great cost and with great reward. If it doesn’t feel that way, we need to question how much we are really being the church. And as we start to feel the cost, we can be assured that we are on the right track.
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday – just click here.
Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
Gnaw On This is a weekly publication by Mike Kinman, the Rector of All Saints Church.