Let us pray:
Lord God, bless our reading of your words today. Bless our hearing of them, that you may enter our hearts and speak to us. Bless our reflections, both mine and those we make separately, that we may listen truly and learn truly. And may your word be a lamp unto our feet, O Lord, our Savior and our King. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
“Let me tell you a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let me tell you about God, about what God is doing in the world.” That’s basically what Jesus says when he begins, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” It’s kind of a weird way to start, if you think about it: the kingdom of heaven sounds like a place to me, but here Jesus is comparing it to a wedding banquet, or, in our terms, the reception. It’s kind of like saying that my apartment is like a tornado-inspired disaster: it’s true, of course, but understanding it means thinking more than literally, means accepting that a place can have a certain feel, a vibe.
A wedding banquet is a pretty good vibe: there’s a wedding to celebrate, lots of people gathered together, music, and all this amazing food: the king tell his servants “I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.” Food! Good, good food! Probably tables and tables of it, food that the king’s servants have been preparing for days and days. It sounds like a great party. What’s not to like?
And yet for some reason, all of the original guests bow out: when the king’s servants come to tell them that the food is ready, that it is time for them to come and celebrate with the king, they all have other places to be: they have farms to tend to, business to attend to. They make light of this invitation they’ve received–this invitation that they’ve already accepted, because no one makes a feast without inviting people first, without knowing how many to cook for and how many place settings to put out. Even when the king practically begs them, for he sends his servants back with tales of the feast and how wonderful it will be, as if the celebration of his son’s marriage and the invitation of a king isn’t enough incentive, maybe they’ll at least think the food sounds so amazing that they’ll come anyway–but no, off they go, some of them going so far as to even beat and kill the king’s servants who came to ask them to the banquet–as if being asked to this banquet put on by the king isn’t an honor but a disgrace, something to be guarded against at all costs–
It sounds ridiculous, put like that, doesn’t it?
But let’s put it another way, shall we?
We wake up to five new notifications, three texts, and what feels like a thousand emails, most of which need to be answered as soon as possible. The cat or dog or kid or neighbor has done something that needs to be cleaned up after. The traffic to work is terrible; there are ten unfinished tasks waiting for you at work, plus wouldn’t it be nice to actually be able to see the top of the desk? And I forgot to pack a lunch, so during lunch I have to go get something, and then after that there’s all those projects and phone calls and more emails and people reminding you of more things to do, and then at the end of the day there’s more traffic, and at home there’s dishes to do and laundry to fold and wait, how long has it been since I swept and vacuumed? Oh, look, a new email! Oh, look, it’s ten already, or midnight, or two.
And in the midst of all that–where is there time and space and energy to hear God’s invitation? A friend’s prayer request is just another notification, that thing you promised to do for church is just another task to complete, and God’s still small voice is so easily drowned out.
Or let’s put it another way:
We wake up exactly when our alarm goes off, and enter into our day’s routine without having to think about it: breakfast, housework, watching the news, meeting with friends or going to whatever event has been on your calendar ever since we wrote it there two months ago. There’s always dinner, followed by the news or your show or a book, and bedtime at about the same time every night, with everything just so.
And in the midst of that routine–where is there time and space to hear God’s invitation? A friend’s need doesn’t fit in the schedule, and that event at church throws a wrench in our routine, and God’s whisper is so easily dismissed.
Or maybe how and why you refuse God’s invitations looks completely different–maybe you drown it out with something else entirely, and maybe you being busy is all good things full of God’s presence, and maybe your routine is how God is blessing you right now, and maybe your deafness to God’s invitation comes from who you think God can work through, or your ideas about what you can do and what you can’t do, or your certainty about the world and how it works. Maybe you’re afraid, afraid enough to beat someone up over an invitation to a wedding.
It doesn’t seem so ridiculous now, I hope.
We all have invitations to God’s feast–they’re sitting in our pockets, in our Bibles, in our hearts and in the whispers of God’s presence. We all have invitations, and we all avoid them somehow, rip them up or send the servant away or make excuses for why we can’t go. But God sends more servants, more invitations, reminds us of all the good things at the banquet prepared and how worth it it all is, over and over, for yes, we’ve all accepted God’s invitation at least once, for here we are, but God doesn’t invite us just once. This life of following Christ isn’t a once-and-done kind of life, for following God requires accepting invitation after invitation, following time and time again: sometimes to the banquet, sometimes to the main streets and alleys and side paths to invite others, sometimes where we’ve never been and never thought we’d go, sometimes to exactly where we are and all the ways we’re really looking toward something else.
Gregory the Great, one of the early thinkers and writers of the church, wrote about this parable, about those who refused the servants’ invitations: “Neither takes notice of the mystery of the Lord.” Neither takes notice of the mystery of the Lord. Because God’s invitation isn’t just to serve, but also to know God and be loved by God, to bask in God’s presence and to know a tiny bit more of God’s mystery, or maybe just to bask in that too. God invites us not just to love one another, but to be loved–to give up our burdens, to rest in the living water and be fed by the bread of life. We are called, not just to love, but to be loved.
Let us accept God’s invitation; let us listen for those who bring us the good news and notice the mystery of God.
 Gregory the Great, in Ancient Christian Commentaries: Matthew, vol. 2, p. 145.