This is post #9 of a series entitled RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 27 podcasts and blogs that focuses a bit deeper on the first five days of what we now call Holy Week. Using the Gospel text found in Matthew 21 through 25, we explore the major differences between organized religion and true relationship with Christ. Practical sessions that give us Jesus’ view of spirituality as compared to the religiousness found in so many people today. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
Today’s Lectio Divina: Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s Kingdom,” He said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come! He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’ They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city. Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled. When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’ That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’ Matthew 22: 1-14 (MsgB)
I know it’s not politically-correct these days to talk about exclusion. And quite honestly, I’m not one of those ultra-conservative Bible-thumpers who believe that only the really good people who follow all the pre-set rules and regulations will make it to heaven. If you’ve read my blogs over the years, you know that I’m a pretty generous dude when it comes to how much mercy and grace God has for His fallen creation.
But, here’s the rub.
Today’s passage in Matthew (and others to follow) simply cannot be swept under the broad blanket of inclusive universalism. You see, as much as we want to believe that everyone on the planet gets saved, the story Jesus presents here in Matthew 22 simply doesn’t agree with that merciful conclusion.
So, what’s one to do with this apparent conflict we find in God’s Word?
On one hand, Jesus tells us in this parable that God, who is many times perceived as the sourpuss kill-joy of the Old Testament, is just the opposite. Many people today reject the authority of the Bible because they see, particularly prior the coming of Jesus, a God who plays favorites with His creation, picking only the Jews to be His chosen ones while every other tribe on the planet is left to fend for themselves. Yet, here in Jesus’ story, we find a Father who, first and foremost, invites His chosen people (Israel) to come to His party, only to be rejected by them, and then, rather than being put off by that rejection, opens up the party to every living soul in the universe!
So much for limited-seating at the wedding banquet, don’t you think?
But, as we keep reading the story, we find that those blessed souls who decide to show up for the party are still responsible for dressing appropriately in order to remain for the festivities. So, what’s that all about? How come the pour sucker who decided to wander into the party but forgot to wear a tux, gets kicked out, only to join the others who are weeping and gnashing their teeth outside the gates of the Kingdom?
Oy Vey, Master, what’s that all about?
And then, as the story closes, Jesus has the final word on this sad tale, warning us…
Many get invited; only a few make it.
Before we get all hot-n-bothered about a God who plays favorites, picking only a chosen few out of the crowd, maybe we need to rethink who this story was actually meant for.
As I see it, Jesus wasn’t addressing the issue of universal salvation here, but actually trying to get the attention of those ultra-religious church leaders who had already pre-determined that they were “in” the Kingdom because of their status and position, having no need for a Savior to save them from their own self-righteousness.
You see, whether it’s those religious folks who have no time in their busy schedules for anything new from Jesus, or those complacent suckers who got into the party for free yet decided there was no need for any thank-you’s, both groups are showing absolutely no honor or respect for the One who is throwing the party in the first place.
So, is this story about a God who limits who can come to His party?
Or, is this a story about a God who invites absolutely everyone to His party, but also reveals the hard-hearted-ness, the callousness, the out-n-out disrespect, and yes, even the deep-seeded hatred of some who consistently choose to live life for themselves, thumbing their noses at a God who wants them at the party, but would rather take a quick bite of wedding cake and run?
Like C.S. Lewis proposed in his classic, The Great Divorce.
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.
My Prayer: Jesus, I embrace Your story, but like many of your hard sayings, I’m sobered by its reality as well. While I want amazing grace and salvation that’s free, I also see here Your call for an on-going response to that same amazing grace. Spirit of God, grant me a willingness to let go of my own control, my own self-sufficiency, so that I remain in God’s mercy, responding rightly to the open invitation to the wedding banquet of the Kingdom. For Your Name’s sake. Amen.
My Questions to Ponder: Where am I responding to God and His amazing grace like those C.S. Lewis speaks of who insist upon their own will and way over God’s? Am I open to being shown areas of my life where I’m still resistant to God’s will? Am I willing to change and live with greater respect and honor for God’s way superseding my own?
So, what are you hearing from Jesus as we take this journey into the first 5 Days of Holy Week?
Religion or Relationship: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ.
A 27-session Lenten blog series from Matthew’s Holy Week Gospel.
Throughout the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), you and I will take a deeper look at Matthew 21-25. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use.
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