God’s Vision of Life

Matthew 22

When I was six, I was thrown out of my own birthday party. We had been playing pin the tail on the donkey, and I lost. I don’t really remember why I had such a temper tantrum. All I remember is my mom whisking me out of the kitchen and to the bedroom where I was given a good talking to and a spanking.

Perhaps it’s the weeping and gnashing of teeth that I did that day, but something reminds me of the guy who shows up to the wedding feast without a wedding robe in Jesus’ parable. The wedding robes were the expected garment at these celebrations; whether borrowed or owned, you had to wear one. His flagrant disrespect for the occasion deeply offends the king. He banishes him to the outer darkness. Jesus ends the parable with the ominous words, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

I don’t know about you, but those words seem un-Jesusy to me. The Jesus I know invited all kinds of people to follow him-he chose 12 disciples but welcomed many more to follow him. He regularly reached out across religious, ethnic, and gender lines. The Jesus I know seems the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words from our first reading, “I will make a feast for all peoples.”

Furthermore, the king in Jesus’ parables often represents God. But this king is violent and vengeful. What happened to “for God so loved the world”?

A closer read of the parable, though, suggests something else. First, this is a parable of great exaggeration. Here, honored guests rearrange their proverbial sock drawers instead of coming to the banquet, and then they kill the messengers who invite them. The king retaliates by wiping out an entire town. Like many stories and tall tales, Jesus’ parables are not meant to be taken literally; rather they are stretched to make a point.

The second thing to know is that Jesus was saying this parable to the Pharisees and temple leaders. They had heard Jesus’ message but rejected it. In fact, the temple leadership was planning to get rid of Jesus. The townspeople in the parable who murder the messengers-that’s a not-so-veiled reference to these religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus. On the whole, this parable seems to be less about who is chosen and more about what people choose to do. It seems like it would be more apt for Jesus to say: “Many are called, but few choose to come.”

And in this sense, this parable has a very contemporary feel. Jesus came offering a banquet where everyone is included, where no one is lonely or left out, where everyone has hope for a better tomorrow. It is life a vision of life abundant, Life with a capital “L.”

But we, along with many others, often fail to recognize the feast. We fill our lives with activities, crowding out the quiet reflection that worship offers. We focus on doing rather than making time to simply be. We take this feast of justice and forgiveness and fullness of life for granted. Jesus calls out what this neglect really is… rejection of God’s invitation to Life.

This past week we have seen extreme examples of people abandoning God’s invitation to Life in the unspeakable violence perpetrated on innocent civilians in Israel and Gaza. Given this parable, it is important to be clear that Jesus himself when faced with violence did not respond in kind, but rather used his life as a means of non-violent resistance to the forces of destruction in his day. Likewise, we cannot stand silent while innocent Israeli and Palestinian people die or look for blood thirsty revenge. We must speak out against oppression and violence against the innocent and hold ourselves and our brothers and sisters of faith to the vision of Isaiah: of the holy mountain that draws people of all nations to sit at God’s feast in peace. It is God’s vision to unite warring peoples, to wipe the tears from their eyes. As people of faith, we must hold up God’s vision for life for all people.


It’s also the week where we stood before the City Council and made our appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the Sheetz development next door. As speaker after speaker rose to give testimony, I thought about all the advantages we have as a church: an educated congregation who can research issues and speak powerfully; strong leadership; pro bono legal counsel; connections in the community. Whatever the City Council decides, it was clear to me that they listened to us.

And I thought about how many communities do not have those assets; whose people work two and three jobs and can’t attend City Council meetings; who don’t have lawyers in their community or connections with city leaders. They are the ones who get the landfills and highways through their communities. And that’s not the feast that Jesus calls us too either. As people of faith, we must hold up God’s vision for life for all people.

Today’s parable is not just a cautionary tale about rejection but more importantly a story about invitation. Today we are the ones who have shown up. Here at the King’s feast, we know what it means to hear the words, “You are forgiven.” We know what it means to be included and fed. We know what it means to work together to house and feed others and to care for the vulnerable in our own midst.

I say, let’s not take this invitation or our privilege for granted. Let’s use our prayer and our voices to cry out for peace and justice around the world. And let’s do what we can right here at home to live that vision. Let’s use what we are learning in the process of standing up for our ministries and our neighbors. Let’s use our growing connections to the folks who live in Village South and the Villager apartments and be the like the slaves in this parable who go out into the streets and invite other people to God’s feast of mercy. Let’s revel in the pleasure of new friends and neighbors. Let’s celebrate what God is doing when God unites strangers and builds peace.  

We are people of faith, and we hold up God’s vision for life for all people. Whether your ministry is opening your trunk on the Harvest Party or sponsoring a youth going to the Gathering, feeding a homeless family at Family Promise or simply soaking up the word of forgiveness that is here for you, let us all make Epiphany be a reflection of God’s vision of Life with a capital “L.” Let Epiphany be a place that draws in all kinds of people to feast on God’s grace and grow to be a stronger, more caring community. Let’s choose to come to God’s banquet, and to share it.

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