Treated Like Royalty

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Years ago, when I was studying in London, my first wife was invited to a garden party as the guest of a friend. My wife learned that the Queen Mother was going to be present at the party.

At the time, it was quite a big deal to be in the presence of royalty. I imagine it would still be a big deal today. My wife had to wear a hat and gloves and of course a nice dress that was suitable for a British garden party. She even had to practice curtseying, in case the Queen Mother happened to pass by her in the course of the afternoon.

My wife looked forward to the event for weeks, and she had a wonderful time. She knew that she was fortunate to be invited to be in the presence of royalty.

There are people in today’s Gospel story who receive an even grander invitation–to the wedding banquet of a king’s son. These folks, however, aren’t grateful.

In Christ’s story, the invitees make light of their chance to attend the banquet. They find plenty of excuses: one of those asked decides that he would rather work on his farm; another thinks he must tend to his business. The rest of those invited—in what must be the height of ingratitude—seize and torture the slaves who have brought them the invitation.

Of course, this parable isn’t really about social life in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus. The real banquet involved is the celebration feast of those who will enter the Kingdom of God.

As the Gospel author Matthew tells the story, those who are first invited to the banquet represent the people of Israel who have rejected the teachings of Jesus and his belief in the coming of the Realm of God.

Jesus then describes a second group of potential guests. They are a much less classy bunch. Jesus says that they come “from the main streets.” (The old translation memorably said that these folks came “from the highways and byways.”) Not surprisingly, some of them are good and some are bad.

In other words, they were ordinary people–not the celebrities that a monarch would customarily invite to the wedding of his son.

The story concludes with a curious passage about someone who gets into the dinner without a “wedding garment.” Scholars are still puzzling over what this garment might have been or why its absence was so offensive to the king.

But taken as a whole, the meaning of the parable is clear—and the theme is as familiar to us as it was to the people who heard Jesus tell it. The king in the parable represents God and the king’s son represents Jesus. So the parable is about accepting or not accepting God’s invitation to share in the joy of life in Christ.

And if we project ourselves into the parable, the most painfully familiar aspect of the story to us will be the casual arrogance of those who were first invited to the banquet.

Just as one invitee insists that he has to go to his farm, and another claims he must attend to his business—so we will hear a colleague turn down our invitation to do something by saying, “I’ve got to work.” Or: “I have to go back into the office.” Excuses, excuses.

Now whether or not someone goes to dinner with you as planned or decides that she has to work instead doesn’t matter much in the great scheme of things. Your friend will find another time to get together with you.

The choice Jesus presents in the parable is much more serious. It’s not social but spiritual: will we respond to God’s call to us? Will we accept God’s offer to serve his Kingdom?

Yet it can be disheartening to realize that, when it comes to responding to the divine offer, we can be just as casual as the people in the parable. God offers us joy and peace and we choose superficial pleasures and worries instead. We make excuses to ourselves instead of accepting God’s invitation.

And the invitation isn’t for some boring fund-raiser. We are talking about gifts of God for the people of God.

God knows that the pleasures of his table are what we need to be happy. So, for example, it’s good for us to do God’s work. Spiritually caring for others is at the same time a form of self-care—a way to taste the banquet.

If a neighbor falls and breaks her hip, I hope I wouldn’t look for reasons to avoid helping her with her shopping. I hope I would do what needs to be done.

By the same token, we should also pay attention to our personal need to relax in God’s presence. This is self-care, too. Sometimes it’s more important to meditate or to pray than to bother with errands around the house.

Again, like all people in all times, we resent religious discipline. But if we see that God is giving us an invitation for own good, we can see the benefits of practicing our faith.

God doesn’t make to us “an offer we can’t refuse.” Rather, it’s an offer we are foolish to refuse!

As the composer of today’s Psalm remarks, “Happy are those who act with justice and always do what is right!” Serving God does make us happier. In loving our neighbors, we also love ourselves. Times of prayer give us comfort.

Leaders of the American Revolution criticized the British system of government because English kings were born into power. They weren’t chosen by the people.

And it’s true that we didn’t elect God to be God! God is with us from before the foundations of the earth.

But we can be sure that God, unlike many earthly monarchs, will always move us toward our own best interests.

Treated like royalty—we are lucky to be invited to the divine banquet!

Amen.


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