This Sunday, we hear Jesus’s parable of the Wedding Banquet. To be frank, I always dread having this story thrown in my face. Too often, the focus ends up on the people who get thrown out of the banquet. I fear that misses the entire point. After all, a banquet doesn’t get to be a banquet if only one person is eating. A banquet, by rights, especially in Jesus’s time, was a community celebration.
When we concentrate on the expulsion part of this story, we also get our heads turned around and focus on the wrong things. We forget that gospel values aren’t ever about taking pleasure in the torments of others. We also end up glossing over the images of abundance and welcome that are embedded in this story. We overlook the fact that the king invites EVERYONE in, and that the focus of this parable is a joyous feast where we should hope that everyone welcomes each other, and where everyone invited in is fed and cared for.
In the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus, we see what happens when we make gods for ourselves, and in this gospel we are warned, in a way, against making gods OF ourselves. We don’t get to decide who’s in and who’s out. In this parable, one of the many things Jesus is trying to tell us is that God’s grace is there for everyone—not just those who are just like us. It’s at the table that we learn how to love and care for each other, and the healing power that that love can have for all the wounded, sinful places we all carry within us.
Unlike us, God doesn’t hold grudges, and God’s love extends beyond the hurts we so often inflict in our relationship with our Creator and Sustainer, as we see in our first reading we will hear on Sunday. Because we are also those people who make the Golden Calf, as well as those who are called to the banquet. If grace and mercy are there for us, no matter how many times we stumble, grace and mercy are there for everyone.
Too many Christians think that belief in Jesus is all about avoiding hell when you die. But belief is only valuable when it bears the fruit of transformation within our lives. Jesus repeatedly tells us that Christian living is all about avoiding hell in the way we live. The wonder in this parable is comparing life to a banquet. And in the words of Auntie Mame, “Live! Life is a banquet, and most poor fools are starving to death!”
Yes, here’s the good news: God calls everyone into God’s kingdom.
And here’s the bad news: God calls EVERYONE into God’s kingdom.
Because “everyone” means everyone: notorious sinners by the standards of Jesus’s time were the people he most hung out with, and when he was questioned about that, he pointed out that doctors don’t go work only among those who are well if they are true to their purpose. God doesn’t just call the godly.
God calls all to the heavenly banquet: prostitutes, con men, drug dealers, thieves, as well as the so-called good and upright folk of the world. They get a place alongside everyone, too. No matter how much that makes US nuts. No matter how much WE want to see these people get thrown into the outer darkness. We want a God who keeps score. Who punishes. Who looses thunderbolts and lightning that are very, very frightening at those we consider to be beneath us.
Having faith in God’s abundance is the first step, even when it shocks us. But this parable also tells us that this banquet brings about transformation on our parts. God expects something from those who accept the invitation: conversion of life to live according to a gospel of abundance. This is hard for most of us, because we live in a world dominated by scarcity—even sometimes, the illusion of scarcity.
If we truly give our lives to Christ, though, we give ourselves over to a different vision for how to live together, a vision not based on selfishness or dominance but on mercy and empathy. And there are some who may reject something that alien to our default way of living. It’s so counter-cultural, so mind-blowing, that most of us have to re-dedicate ourselves every day to Christian living.
There’s room at the table for everyone—we may need to set more place settings or maybe add a new leaf. We may need to build a bigger table.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.