Friday, December 13, 2013

Home for Christmas? 13

Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven

Matthew 22. 1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’

One of the central themes of Jesus' teaching was that the kingdom of God, the place where God reigned, was "at hand". God was already living in and among people, and his kingdom was growing in the midst of the world they lived in, and in their own hearts too. Jesus called people to be part of that growth by loving those around them. In the parable of the Great Banquet he tells of a king who invites his rich and powerful friends to a banquet to celebrate the marriage of his son.  Each of those invited makes an excuse and declines. A Royal Wedding, then as now, was not only a private contract between two individuals, but also the beginning of a new stage in the life of the kingdom in which it happened, so their refusal is not only rather ungrateful, but it also signals their unwillingness to be part of that new kingdom. The man who does turn up, but refuses to wear a wedding garment is also saying by his behaviour that he is not really committed to this new Royal family. He may be there in body, but not in spirit. 
In the story, it is the poor and disabled who take the places of honour. This is a kingdom for them. 
In Jesus the kingdom of God becomes a home for all, no matter what their background or life-story. It is important to realise that this story Jesus tells is just a story by the way, over the top and exaggerated for effect. It isn't meant to tell us how God feels or would act. He is not the angry king of this parable, and the "weeping and gnashing of teeth" is part of the story, not a description of what happens to those who do not follow Christ. This is not a story intended to frighten people into the kingdom but rather to highlight the huge privilege of God's invitation to us to get involved in his work - why would we want to decline? 

  • Have you ever found yourself in grander surroundings than you were used to, feeling over-awed and worrying that you had somehow trespassed into a place that was not for you?
  • Have you ever been left out of a party you felt you should have been invited to. What did it feel like?
R.S Thomas' poem paints a picture of God's banquet. What do you feel as you read it?

The Kingdom by RS Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

This famous scene from "My Fair Lady", based on George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion", satirises the social stratification of English society. Eliza Doolittle finds herself thrown into a situation where she is utterly out of her depth... But would you really want to be a part of this (literally) monochrome world?

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