October 9, 2005
Another week, another difficult parable from Matthew. Like last week’s parable of the tenant farmers in the vineyard, this week’s parable of the wedding feast includes parts that are not only violent, but difficult to understand. Why would you kill someone who is inviting you to a wedding banquet? Why would the king send his troops to destroy the city of those who refused to attend?
Let’s start with what is clear and work from there. This parable is obviously about invitations: invitations to the banquet of life, invitations to the feast in the Kingdom of God. Invitations are significantly different from general knowledge. Many people possess general knowledge, but an invitation is personal and concrete and it demands a response. I am sure that in the world of the parable, every person knew that the king was holding a wedding banquet for his son. But that general knowledge was quite different from a personal invitation to attend.
God sends us personal invitations. We call those invitations the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and those invitations arrive in the concrete circumstances of our lives. Every person here who is a regular smoker has the general knowledge that tobacco is harmful and should not be used. But every once in a while, you receive a personal invitation from God to stop smoking. It can happen as you are watching a medical program on television, or when you receive the news of a friend that died altogether too young. Perhaps some here this morning have the general knowledge that something is going wrong in your marriage, that something is dying. But every so often, perhaps when you are looking at old photographs or watching your children play, God sends you a personal invitation to do something about it.
Many of you here have the general knowledge that you should make contact with an old friend, spend more time with your children, let a person know the truth of what I believe, find another job, or reach out and make peace with someone who has hurt you. Those ideas are in your heads. But every so often God puts in your mind a thought, or you catch something in the glance of another person, or you turn a corner and suddenly realize that God is personally asking you, “Why not do something about that now? I am inviting you to act.”
Now God keeps sending these personal invitations because God loves us and desires that we have a deeper and richer life. But no matter how many times the invitation is sent, we retain the freedom to choose, the freedom to refuse the invitation. We often take it. We tell ourselves, “Yes, that would be a very good thing to do, and I’ll get around to it. Yes, that is something that would be important for me in my life, but not today.”
Here is where the violence comes in. If we took a very literal reading of today’s parable, we could interpret that the king who sent his troops to destroy the murderer’s city stands for God punishing those who refuse to accept the invitations which are sent. But such an interpretation would be certainly wrong. There are simply too many passages in the scriptures that describe God as loving and forgiving, slow to anger and of great compassion. So we know that the violence in the parable is not describing God. It is, however, telling us something very important about the choices that we make.
When we choose to refuse a personal invitation of God, there are consequences. Those consequences can sometimes be quite violent and destructive. In short, there is a price to pay for saying, “no.” When over and over again you refuse the personal invitation to stop smoking, God is not going to punish you, but you might be facing a future that includes a violent and painful death from cancer. When you refuse the invitation to take some action to heal your marriage, God is not going to attack you, but your choice might well lead to a life that is empty or to the upheaval of divorce. When we choose to put aside to some other day the opportunity to make contact with someone that we love, spend more time with our children, tell the truth, reexamine our job, or reach out in reconciliation to someone else, God does not become angry. But we have no guarantee that the same invitation will be offered to us tomorrow. If such opportunities slip through our hands, we have to deal with the consequences.
God will not punish us, but life will. There is no more bitter pain than the realization that things could have been different if I would have chosen better, if I would have said yes to the invitation that was offered to me. This is why God keeps sending invitations, day after day, time after time. This is why the Spirit keeps personally prompting us in ways that we expect and in ways that surprise us.
You know the things to which God is calling you. You can remember all the personal invitations that have been sent to you time after time in the past. This liturgy might be another invitation to add to the list. Do not set those personal invitations aside. Do not imagine that there will be time for another chance tomorrow. Accept the invitation that has been sent. Respond to life today.