Come Join the Party!

Matthew 22:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

A wandering Teacher named Jesus was disturbing the peace in Jerusalem. He had entered the city riding a donkey, followed by a throng of faithful proclaiming Him a prophet and healer, waving palm branches, and giving Him a royal welcome.

Jesus had upset the booths of the dove merchants and overturned the tables of the loan sharks in the Temple, shouting at them and driving them out with a whip.

They believed Jesus was teaching subversive new ideas couched in provocative little stories we call parables. In them, He was challenging the city's foremost religious leaders, the Pharisees. And they wanted Him stopped.

The Pharisees demanded to see His credentials and asked Him under whose authority He was turning Jerusalem upside down. He asked them a question of His own: by whose authority had John the Baptist come? They dared not answer Him.

If they said by God's authority, Jesus would have asked why they didn't believe and follow John. If they said John had no authority but his own, the masses who still considered John a prophet would have turned against them.

The Pharisees refused to answer, so Jesus refused to answer, too. Instead, He told more of His "rabble-rousing" stories.

One parable suggested that thieves and prostitutes would be welcomed into Heaven ahead of the Pharisees. They couldn't believe their ears!

Another said that God was taking the Kingdom back from those who refused to hear His messengers, and would give it to someone new. To teach that God would put heathen nations ahead of His chosen people sounded like blasphemy to the Pharisees.

St. Matthew says the Pharisees knew that story was aimed directly at them, and they would have arrested Jesus and thrown Him in prison right then if they didn't fear a backlash from the masses.

His third story, the subject of today's Gospel lesson, sharpened the point even more. Jesus spoke of a king who planned a lavish wedding banquet for his son, and invited all his special friends.

His servants worked furiously preparing roast lamb and other tempting dishes for the king's treasured guests. But when he sent out his messenger to tell his friends that everything was ready, most of them shrugged their shoulders, ignored the message and went about their business. A few went even further: they brutally beat the king's messenger to death.

The Pharisees understood all too well the obvious connection: Jesus was speaking of the cruel death of John the Baptist.

The king was enraged, the story continued, and sent troops to destroy those who had abused and murdered his messenger. Jesus described the destruction in graphic terms that foreshadowed the violent sacking of Jerusalem by the Roman conqueror Titus, which would occur less than 40 years after Jesus' death: "Not one stone will be left upon another!"

Then the king called for his servants and told them to go out on the streets and invite total strangers -- everyone they could find -- to come and feast at the banquet table his friends had rejected.

Rich, poor, derelicts, homeless, beggars, hustlers, prostitutes, pimps, criminals, thieves, educated or not, it didn't matter, said the king. He was opening up his fantastic fiesta to everyone, and the doors would stay open until the banquet hall was filled.

"Those whom I invited were not worthy," the king told his servants. "Go therefore to the highways and back streets, and invite those you find there to my banquet."

This is a clear parallel to opening the Good News of the Kingdom to the Gentiles in Acts 13. "It was necessary that the Word of God be spoken to you first," the apostle Paul would later tell the Jews of Pisidian Antioch. "But since you reject it, you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life. Behold, we are turning to the Gentiles."

St. Paul enlarged the metaphor in Romans 11. We are like wild olive branches grafted onto the tree. Some of the true branches were broken off, he wrote, so that we could be grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree.

Let us be humbly grateful to God that we, the "wild olives", the "heathen" of the Gentile nations, were found worthy by the King while we were yet unworthy, and have been lovingly and mercifully grafted into the life of the Everlasting Kingdom of God!

Glory to Jesus Christ.




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