By the Rev. Darren Miner
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a banquet. And who doesn’t like a banquet? This theme of a divine feast is a common thread tying together the reading from Isaiah, Psalm 23, and Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast.
Isaiah assures the people of Israel that something good lies ahead. God has something marvelous in store for them. But how can he possibly describe it? Well, it is like a great victory feast. But unlike a normal victory feast, to which only the victors are invited, everyone is invited to this feast! “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food.” And let’s not forget the exceptional wine! Now, what is the great victory that is being celebrated? Just this: God has swallowed up death forever.
Psalm 23 reprises the metaphor of a banquet. Again the banquet is a victory feast. (But here, it seems that the losers are not invited.) God prepares a banquet table for us in the presence of our persecutors and tormentors. And there is so much wine being poured that the cups overflow onto the table. One thing is clear: we will never again be hungry or thirsty.
Again, in the Gospel reading from Matthew, we get the image of a banquet. Jesus, while arguing with the chief priests and Pharisees of Jerusalem, attempts to describe the Kingdom of Heaven by using an allegory about a royal wedding banquet. The key to understanding any allegory is to know what each person, place, and thing in the story represents. In a sense, allegories are written in code. This particular allegory is quite complicated. So, let me try to decode it for you.
God sent his prophets to the religious leaders of Israel and invited them into his Kingdom. But they refused. God sent more prophets. Some of the religious elite dismissed the call because they were more interested in worldly affairs. Others reacted violently to God’s call: they killed God messengers, the prophets. Because of the violence of these leaders, God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed. God then sent missionaries and apostles to go far and wide, from one end of the earth to the other, to invite other people into the Kingdom of Heaven. And the missionaries and apostles invited many people, some righteous and some unrighteous, to join the Church, the community of the New Covenant. But when it was time, God came to examine those who had responded to this second invitation. And he found that some had not responded wholeheartedly. Some had not spiritually prepared themselves for the Kingdom. These unrighteous members of the Church were handed over to the angels to be cast into Hell. For many are invited to share eternal life, but few are found worthy, few are chosen.
That last bit is the kicker! “Few are chosen.” Up till then, we can follow along without the least bit of anxiety. After all, we are not the religious leaders of ancient Israel who ignored, or even killed, the prophets. We are those other people that were invited later and accepted the invitation! Everything was fine till Jesus had to ruin it all with that last saying: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” That final word of warning leaves us all wondering, “Will I be found worthy of the Kingdom of God? Will I be chosen?”
Let me reassure you just a bit. Jesus is fond of hyperbole. He quite often exaggerates to get his point across. So I wouldn’t read too much into his use of the word “few.” Even so, we are left with the troublesome, but quite true, teaching that not all members of the Church are righteous. Not everyone who calls him- or herself a Christian is a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Not everyone who wears a gold cross around his or her neck is destined for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, we have two options: 1) we can worry about the state of our salvation till we are sick at heart, or 2) we can do something about it. Through Christ, God has offered us all the gift of eternal life, but we have to know how to graciously accept. God has sent us an invitation to a royal wedding banquet, but we have to know how to dress appropriately. In other words, we need to know what God expects of us, and then go do it.
St. Paul advises: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Let me be a little more specific. First, join the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, if you haven’t already. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. Second, read the Bible regularly, focusing especially on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Third, pray every single day, and attend church services on Sundays as often as you can. Fourth, practice love. Practice it as a musician practices his or her instrument. Practice it till you become a veritable virtuoso. Fifth, when you screw up (and we all do!), repent. Acknowledge what you’ve done. Make amends if possible. And do everything in your power to turn back to the path of Jesus Christ. Last but not least, trust God. Despite the harsh saying that concludes today’s Gospel reading, God is, in fact, both merciful and compassionate. I know that Jesus said that “few are chosen.” But my hope is that many are chosen, that maybe even all are chosen in the end.
Bobby McFerrin once wrote a song called “Don’t worry! Be happy!” Jesus is singing a different song to us today. It’s called “Don’t worry! Be prepared!” If we spend just a little time now mending, cleaning, and ironing our wedding robes (metaphorically speaking), we’ll someday be feasting in the Kingdom of Heaven on “rich food filled with marrow” and “well-aged wines strained clear.” We will find ourselves once again in the company of friends and family members who have died and are sorely missed. And most importantly, we will be breaking bread and sharing wine with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in a Holy Communion that knows no end. So, “let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” And even as we rejoice, let us get to work on sprucing up those wedding robes!
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.