Tuesday, October 14, 2014

17th Sunday after Pentecost

Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. 

In the Gospel lesson this morning there is a whole range of dispositions demonstrated in the various characters in the parable. Each reaction to the king's invitation to the marriage represents an attitude toward the message of the Gospel, God's invitation to fellowship with him. In this sense, it is similar to the parable of the sower which describes the various levels of receptivity to the word of God; however, that parable, I believe, is meant to be descriptive: that is, it is not telling us that we just need to try harder to be good soil. Rather, the parable explains the way the world is. It does not answer why some are receptive to the Gospel and others not,  but it does remind us that we should not be surprised to encounter all these dispositions in the world: we will encounter hostility towards the Gospel, openness to the Gospel that is hampered by being superficial, openness that is marred by worldliness, and finally sincere receptivity to the word of God. The parable this morning I believe shows us these various kinds of attitudes towards the word of God in the Gospel, but it is also telling us to do something about it. We are in the end to identify with the highwaymen who know they are entirely dependent on the hospitality of the king.

The parable begins with a king and the announcement of his son's impending marriage. The Bible ends with the announcement of a marriage. In the book of Revelation, we are told about the coming marriage supper of the Lamb. The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, will be joined with his bride, the church, the body of God's faithful people throughout the world and throughout history. All have been invited to this marriage feast of love, which will be the everlasting communion of love between God and his people and one another. But, of course, there are different reactions to this invitation, and we see this represented symbolically in the parable. The first of those who are invited to the king's marriage are consumed with their own affairs. The parable says that they went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise. In the one we see a collective symbol for manual labor, in the other a symbol for the industries of finance and trade. Both are never-ending occupations with no definitive destination. Nobody ever says, I have reaped enough corn; I have traded enough goods and made enough money. It is easy to become consumed by the revolutions of both and forget that neither is an end in itself. If we become consumed by these cyclical pursuits we will neglect the call of God, forgetting that the true riches, and the true bread cannot be seen or touched, but are in God the source of all goodness, love, beauty and peace. The disposition of those who decline the gracious invitation could be summed up in one word: worldiness. They are consumed with the cares and occupations of this world, as if our happiness and contentment rested in worldly things.

There is, of course, another type of reaction to the invitation of the king. These are hostile to the invitation, and in the parable we are told, they took the king's servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. To understand their hostility towards the king and what it might mean spiritually, it is helpful to recall last week's Gospel lesson which included the parable of the vineyard and the husbandmen. In that parable, a vineyard owner rents out a vineyard to some tenants. When he tries to send servants to collect his dues, the tenants abuse the servants and eventually kill his son whom he had sent as a last resort. The application of that parable is that there are those who believe that the faith belongs to them as a possession. True Christians are not those who think they have chosen a religion and are practicing it to the best of their ability. No, my friends, true Christians are those who know that they have been called and claimed by God; God has chosen them in Jesus. The faith is not our possession; rather, we have come to realize that we are God's possession. The vineyard is not ours but the Lord's. In a similar way, there are those in today's parable who are hostile to the king and his gracious invitation. It is always baffling but true that there are those who respond to love and kindness with malice and malevolence. We will never in this world understand why some are open to the things of God and others defiantly closed.

But there is a third disposition, that of the highwaymen. The king tells his servants, go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. Highwaymen, of course, are not the prominent citizens of a community. They are not the kin and relations that must, out of obligation, be invited. But they are those who are passing through. They have no natural belonging to the king and his community of subjects, friends, and relations. We are, I believe, to identify with these highwaymen. We are those who do not belong, who do not find their home in this world, but are on the road, on a pilgrimage of growth and learning and journeying towards that greater life. Have you ever felt like an outsider or as if you did not belong? Have you ever felt handicapped by your past wounds, emotional or psychological? Then you are a highwaymen. You have been invited to the king's feast not because you deserve it, but because of the open invitation of the king who has gone out into the highways and byways of human life to call all to a feast of communion and fellowship with him.

This fact is highlighted by the puzzling detail that one of the guests did not have on a wedding garment and so was cast out. In fact, it was the host's responsibility to supply a wedding garment not the guests, and particularly to highwaymen who naturally would not be properly prepared to come to a wedding feast while on the road. This reminds us that it is not our righteousness that gains our entrance to the feast, but God's gracious invitation. At this feast he clothes us with a righteousness not our own but the righteousness of the Lord Jesus.

My friends, if you find yourself burdened by the cares and occupations of this life, like those who would not come to the king's feast; If you find yourself resistant to change and new life, like those who attacked the king's servants; then perhaps it is time to get in touch with your inner highwaymen, the person that realizes he does not have his act all together, who cannot claim to have a right of invitation to God's feast or even to be worthy of one. We are called to a feast today. A feast that is a picture of that future wedding feast with the bride and the lamb. We are gathered together as highwaymen, who do not presume to come to this table trusting in our righteousness, but in the king's never-failing property always to have mercy.

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